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Progressive groups court Edwards

Rep. Donna Edwards
Rep. Donna Edwards

WASHINGTON -- A pair of national liberal groups are launching a draft campaign to encourage Rep. Donna Edwards to enter the race to replace U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who is retiring next year.

Democracy for America, the group founded by former Vermont governor Howard Dean, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee have sent emails to members asking them to support the five-term congresswoman from Prince George's County.

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"She's a bold progressive who steps up for big fights and doesn't back down in the face of Republicans or under pressure from Democratic leadership," an email to DFA supporters sent Thursday read.

"Donna Edwards has a vision for a progressive America and the backbone to fight for it," the email read.

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Edwards, 56, a rising star in her party who defeated 15-year incumbent Al Wynn in the 2008 Democratic primary, has said she is seriously considering the race. Edwards represents the state's 4th Congressional District.

The groups sent emails to supporters a day after Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat, became the first to enter the race. Some on the party's left have criticized statements Van Hollen made as the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Another liberal advocacy group, MoveOn.Org, voiced concerns Wednesday about Van Hollen's supportive statements about the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction panel which suggested changes to Social Security, such as raising the retirement age.

"As he enters the race, we request that he clarify his position on Social Security," MoveOn said in a statement. "It was deeply disappointing when Rep. Van Hollen said in 2012 that the Bowles-Simpson plan that would have cut Social Security benefits was 'the right way to go.'"

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Van Hollen did not endorse the Bowles-Simpson recommendations -- and has not included the report's provisions on Social Security in his own budget proposals -- but said they could be used as a framework for a comprehensive deficit reduction plan of the kind that both House Republicans and the Obama White House were pressing for at the time.

Supporters note Van Hollen led push-back on the Obama administration's move toward the so-called chained CPI for Social Security as part of deficit reduction talks and that he frequently noted "serious" and "substantive" concerns with that idea, which would have slowed cost of living adjustments for seniors.

Van Hollen also has a perfect score from the Washington-based Alliance for Retired Americans, a group that advocates for seniors.

"From day one, Chris Van Hollen has fought for retirement security for all Americans," a campaign aide said. "During budget negotiations, he stood up to Republican efforts to dismantle the program and erode its benefits with the damaging chained CPI calculation… And he will continue to fight any effort to cut benefits or raise the retirement age."

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