Race Recap

Inside Glenn Ivey’s victory over Donna Edwards

AIPAC’s expensive involvement in the race was one factor, but far from the only one

Center for American Progress

Glenn Ivey

All politics is local, former House Speaker Tip O’Neill was fond of saying. In the Democratic primary in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, a race that garnered national attention, attracted millions in spending by outside pro-Israel groups and came with a “battle for the soul of the Democratic Party” narrative, that old political saw just may be the best explanation for former state attorney Glenn Ivey’s victory over former Rep. Donna Edwards.

“Ivey was a well-known and well-liked candidate with an established political network and a lifetime of contacts in the district, so that was a big factor,” said Josh Kurtz, founding editor of the nonprofit news site Maryland Matters. “Every time [Edwards] came out with an endorsement from a former congressional colleague, he countered with an endorsement from a local mayor or other officeholder. Those are more important.”

For the race’s many outside observers, Ivey’s victory was a political Rohrshach test.

But for voters in Maryland’s 4th District, which includes most of Prince George’s County, Edwards has a decade and a half of political baggage, and Ivey, the former county prosecutor, is a recognizable member of a local political dynasty. Voters considered all of that, as well as the influence of outside political groups, as they made their decisions. And one candidate’s decision to drop out of the race to help shore up support for Ivey might have sealed Edwards’ fate. 

“Glenn ran a good campaign, Donna didn’t,” said a former Prince George’s County politician who felt Edwards did not have an effective response to attack ads against her. 

The race attracted millions of dollars in outside spending, most of which benefited Ivey. The bulk of it — nearly $6 million — was spent by United Democracy Project, a super PAC affiliated with AIPAC, which endorsed Ivey. Edwards received more than $1 million in support from PACs affiliated with groups including J Street, Emily’s List and the League of Conservation Voters. 

“​​I deeply appreciated the support of the pro-Israel community,” Ivey told Jewish Insider on Thursday. Edwards frequently attacked AIPAC in recent days, writing last week that UDP’s millions of dollars spent against her “is not democracy.”   

But the involvement of AIPAC and its allies, who did not begin spending heavily until the last month of the election, was not the only factor in Ivey’s victory. Polling conducted on behalf of Edwards’ supporters in early June, before UDP began spending in the race, already showed Ivey leading Edwards by 13%.

Voters were very familiar with both candidates.: Ivey served as the county’s top prosecutor from 2002 to 2010, and his wife and son currently also hold office: Jolene Ivey is a member of the county council, and their son Julian serves in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Edwards was already a known entity when she entered the race in January, having represented the district in Congress from 2008 to 2017. (She defeated incumbent Rep. Albert Wynn in a 2008 upset.) VotersThey also recalled that her two most recent campaigns ended in defeat, and neither was a close call. 

She left Congress to run for Senate in 2016, losing in the Democratic primary to now-Sen. Chris Van Hollen by 14%. In 2018, she ran in the primary for Prince George’s County executive and lost by 37% to Angela Alsobrooks.

UDP’s ads, which ran often on TV and radio in recent weeks, did not mention Israel. They criticized Edwards for having poor constituent services when she was in office. It was not the first time the issue has come up; Van Hollen raised the issue in 2016, and The Washington Post wrote at the time that her office was “​​notorious for inattention to constituent services and teamwork.” 

“The AIPAC ads were definitely a factor, because by bringing the issue of Edwards’ constituent services into the open — a topic the insiders had buzzed about for years — they helped expose one of her chief vulnerabilities,” said Kurtz. “Were they determinative? It’s hard to say they were when the margin was so surprisingly wide.” 

For nearly three months, the primary was a two-person race between Ivey and Jazz Lewis, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates who chairs the body’s Democratic Caucus. Lewis, 33, had sought to portray himself as a young upstart compared to the 61-year-old Ivey, making the race a generational contest between two candidates who were both generally aligned with the mainstream pro-Israel community. But then in January, Edwards threw her hat into the ring. 

“I think Donna Edwards jumping into the race shifted things for a lot of people,” Lewis told JI. “I started my career as a labor and community organizer. Many of the labor unions were split between she and I. I identify as a pro-Israel progressive, and obviously many of the folks in the pro-Israel community were split between Glenn and I.” 

For months, AIPAC-alignedmainstream pro-Israel activists were unsure if Lewis or Ivey was better suited to take on Edwards, who clashed with members of the Maryland Jewish community due to her approach to Israel. “The big issue is whether to support Jazz or Glenn,” one pro-Israel Democrat in Maryland told JI in January after Edwards entered the race. Jewish activists in nearby Montgomgery and Baltimore Counties followed the race closely, but the 4th District does not have a sizable Jewish community.

Ultimately, Lewis’s internal polling showed that he “took votes from both Glenn and Donna, in two different ways. So if I didn’t win … it was really hard to tell who I would have been a spoiler for,” he explained. He dropped out of the race in April and successfully ran for reelection in Maryland’s lower chamber.

Voters in the 4th District did not cast their ballots because of either candidate’s stance on Israel, Lewis noted. But as he campaigned for his own reelection campaign over the past few weeks, he frequently heard people discussing AIPAC’s tactics in the race. 

The main reaction, he said, was confusion about why a group that focused on an issue with no purchase in their district was so heavily invested in telling them who to support.

“Some people were not very keen on the idea of AIPAC spending so much in this district, not necessarily because they were supporting Donna, and I want to be very clear about that, but because many of them weren’t even aware that AIPAC existed,” said Lewis. “Their TV was suddenly dominated, so they’re kind of like, ‘Who is this group? And why are they flooding my TV to tell me who to vote for?’”

“Some of the people who disagreed with the tactics were Edwards’ supporters, but many supported Ivey, and they just weren’t keen on one organization telling them who they should be supporting,” added Lewis. “Others felt that it was just putting information out there that reminded them of what they had already heard in past races with Chris Van Hollen and County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.”

Ivey agreed the ads revealed a damaging fact about Edwards, and it resonated with voters. “It was true, and actually relevant,” he told JI of the claim that her congressional office had not served constituents well. 

But he also argued that criticism leveled at him for his unwillingness to disavow AIPAC or other PAC spending was hypocritical. (Edwards did not respond to a request for comment.) 

“The problem she had there was that she benefitted from independent expenditures in her campaigns, from the time that she knocked off Albert Wynn in her first election to Congress, and in all her subsequent races,” said Ivey. In 2008, during her first campaign, advocacy groups spent more than $1.4 million on her behalf. 

“I get the concerns about the money because most candidates can’t raise those kinds of dollars. But the point I think that some people lose,” Ivey noted, is that “if we’ve got concerns about this, we need to understand, first of all, that it’s not going away. The Supreme Court as currently constituted is not about to change the money and speech rulings that are now the law of the land, so you better get ready to fight fire with fire.”

“Having said all of that,” he added, “I’ve gotten calls from people who are talking about the amount that was spent, and their negative views about AIPAC, and I’ll have to deal with those.” An ad created by J Street PAC aimed to tie Ivey to former Vice President Mike Pence and to the 109 Republicans in Congress who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election and were also endorsed by AIPAC. “A lot of people were taken aback by the commercials linking me to Pence in particular, because some people thought it was true,” he noted.

Ivey, who was also supported by Democratic Majority for Israel and Pro-Israel America, did not expect the level of vitriol directed at AIPAC from the left-hand flank of the party. 

“It’s kind of like walking into the middle of a family feud sometimes with some of these scenarios. But far as I can tell, the policy positions that I’ve had for more than a decade now are mainstream policy positions,” explained Ivey. “I thought that the AIPAC policy positions were mainstream, and so I’m a little bit surprised at some of the pushback. Nobody’s saying everything’s perfect in Israel, but I don’t know. I just… there seems to be another level of conflict going on.” 

The 4th District is one of the most Democratic in the country, all but guaranteeing Ivey a seat in the next Congress. 

“I’m really excited about the possibility of things that we can do in the community, in the district, regardless of whether it’s a Democrat majority or a Republican majority on Capitol Hill,” Ivey said. “Reentry efforts, intervention and prevention programs, domestic violence outreach and awareness.”

Absent from his line of top issues was Israel.

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