GREENBELT – It was a tale of two strategies at Friday’s U.S. Senate debate. Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-4) and Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-8) faced off at an event hosted by the Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt Democratic Club and the Young Democrats of Prince George’s County at the Greenbelt volunteer fire house on March 18. […]
GREENBELT – It was a tale of two strategies at Friday’s U.S. Senate debate.
Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-4) and Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-8) faced off at an event hosted by the Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt Democratic Club and the Young Democrats of Prince George’s County at the Greenbelt volunteer fire house on March 18. Led by moderator Stewart Jordan, a former president of the Roosevelt club, the debate showcased two candidates who held similar views on many of the issues but presented different cases to voters.
For Edwards, she said her life experiences meant she would fight for working families in similar circumstances.
“I’m running for the United States Senate because I believe that Maryland’s middle class families and those struggling to get into the middle class deserve a voice, a perspective, someone who’s walked in their shoes,” Edwards said.
Van Hollen argued that his endorsements show an ability to get things done.
“I know how to fight,” he said. “I also know when to find common ground, which we have to do to make progress on certain things, because we can’t allow division in Washington to affect hardworking families.”
Both candidates voiced their support for a livable minimum wage and comprehensive immigration reform, and their opposition to presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims, to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and to the Iraq war. And both said non-state actors are the biggest national security threat, with Van Hollen naming ISIS specifically.
They also agreed the government should work to make college more affordable, although they differed on how to do that. Van Hollen would help students with loans to refinance them and create income-based repayment plans. Edwards supports making public colleges debt-free and encouraging private colleges to use money from their endowments to help reduce costs.
The main contrast the two candidates tried to draw was about why their opinions mattered. Edwards pointed to her personal experiences to give her views credence, while Van Hollen said his were supported by a variety of groups and community leaders, as shown through endorsements.
“It is important voters know the views of people in the community who’ve worked with the candidates,” Van Hollen said. “Their support indicates that here in Prince George’s County, I’ve done the best work to deliver results that impact people’s lives.”
The six-term congressman has been endorsed by the United Auto Workers and Service Employees International unions, as well as the Washington Post, in addition to county leaders like County Executive Rushern Baker III, Del. Tawanna Gaines (D-22) and state Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-22).
Edwards, in contrast, focused on her background. The four-term congresswoman said she is the daughter of an United States Air Force veteran, a single mother who couldn’t pay off her student loan debt until age 50, and someone who has worked with the non-profit world as well as NASA.
“I think it matters what perspective you come from and what your background is in terms of what you’re going to prioritize in the United States Senate, and I think that’s important to know about any person running for any office,” she said.
Two of the largest clashes of the night highlighted those differences. On the issue of criminal justice reform, both candidates claimed to support ending mass incarceration, but Edwards said her experience makes her more committed to the cause.
“There’s only one person in the race for the United States Senate who knows what it’s like to be the mother of a young black man,” she said.
She then attacked Van Hollen’s record in the Maryland legislature.
“The fact is when he was in the Maryland General Assembly, he supported truth in sentencing (and) mandatory minimums, which has led to the mass incarceration of 22,000 Marylanders,” she said. “You can hardly be the guy who’s against mass incarceration when you’re responsible for making it happen.”
Van Hollen defended himself by saying the vote in question was supported by domestic violence advocacy groups and was focused on violent offenders.
“In the General Assembly, the issue was not young and nonviolent substance abusers. I draw a distinction between nonviolent substance abuse and people who commit rape and people who commit murder,” he said. “In Congress, I’ve actually been a co-sponsor of legislation to change our sentencing laws.”
When it was his turn to attack Edwards, Van Hollen did so by pointing to reports of her office’s poor constituent services, specifically a claim made by a union of NASA employees that has endorsed his campaign because of those issues.
“There was a story in the Baltimore Sun just the other day about some NASA employees who believe they have been discriminated against on pay based on race (who) came to Ms. Edwards’ office, and they didn’t get any response,” he said. “They felt strongly about it. They felt that they did not get the respect they deserve.”
Edwards said the union had conveyed the incident in a biased manner.
“They didn’t get the resolution they wanted, and we’d been working on that for the last year in my office,” she said. “Just because you read it in a paper doesn’t make it true.”
Both candidates agreed that the debate, attended by around 200 people including staffers from both campaigns, was a success. The debate was the only one scheduled in Prince George’s County, with the next faceoff set to take place in Baltimore on March 25.
The primary election is April 2 and early voting starts on April 14.