Josh Kurtz: Taylor-Made

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For Montgomery County Del. Herman Taylor (D), the beginning of the end of his political career will come on May 8 — though that’s probably not how he envisions it.

Taylor, an eight-year veteran of the legislature, is expected to announce that day, on the campus of the University of Maryland, that he will challenge U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.

Now last we checked, College Park is not in Edwards’ Congressional district — it’s in the district of Rep. Steny Hoyer (D), the House majority leader. But no matter: No doubt the university will provide a great backdrop when Taylor stands up and boldly declares that children are our future. Or that education is really important. Or that he wishes the Terps had been a little better prepared when they ran into the Ohio University Bobcats in the NCAA tournament, just like he wishes Edwards was better prepared on (INSERT ISSUE HERE).

Announcing his candidacy OUTSIDE the district he hopes to represent may yet prove to be one of the least questionable moves Taylor makes during this campaign. If there is a rationale for his candidacy, it is hard to detect. He did not respond to telephone messages left at his Annapolis and district offices last week and did not answer an e-mail sent to his legislative account.

People who know Taylor say he has been working hard over the last several weeks, going to events and door-knocking in the Prince George’s County portion of the district, where no one knows him. They also say he’s not happy in Annapolis, that running for Congress is a go-for-broke, up-or-out move.

The view in certain Maryland Democratic circles is that Edwards could, in theory, be vulnerable this year. Why not? Freshmen often are, before they’ve had a chance to establish themselves in the voters’ minds. And there’s this buzz about Edwards — fed, no doubt, by the people who weren’t so happy to see her oust then-Rep. Albert Wynn (D) two years ago — that she isn’t great on constituent service, that she’s arrogant, that she thumbs her nose at the more prosaic aspects of holding office and really just wants to focus on deep and important policy questions.

Because this stuff is repeated often enough, there could be an element of truth to some of it. But so what? Have you ever seen Edwards enter a room, especially a room-full of women, especially a room-full of African-American women? It’s electric. She’s like a conquering hero, every mother’s daughter.

By defeating Wynn, Edwards defeated the epitome of a political boss, part of the old (African-American) political boys’ club in Prince George’s County. Is it any coincidence that it has mainly been men who were talked up as potential Democratic primary challengers this year?

There is one other issue that Edwards’ foes think they’ll be able to use against her this year: Israel. Edwards last year voted “present” on a resolution condemning Hamas for attacks on Israel. Many American Jewish groups howled.

But she was given considerable cover by J Street, the new and in-fashion lobbying and advocacy group that is fighting for a “two-state solution” in the Middle East — a position that lines up nicely with the Obama administration’s. A J Street fundraising appeal for “our friend Donna Edwards,” which called her a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” Member of Congress, yielded tens of thousands of dollars in a very short period.

Still, there is some expectation that a viable challenger to Edwards can pull in a significant amount of Jewish money this year. Will it happen? Depends, probably, on the quality of the challenger.

Which almost brings us back to Herman Taylor. But first a few words about Glenn Ivey (D), the outgoing Prince George’s state’s attorney. Ivey has a long and impressive record of service, as an aide on Capitol Hill, as chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission, and in the county. Ivey has always aspired to serve in Congress. He opened an exploratory committee in advance of a possible challenge to Edwards. But he took a look at the political landscape for several weeks, and decided to fold his tent.

So if Glenn Ivey concludes that he can’t beat Donna Edwards, why does Herman Taylor think he can? Maybe it’s the fairly charmed political life he’s led thus far.

Taylor, who is movie-star handsome, first burst on the political scene in 1998 at the age of 31, running a long-shot campaign for County Council. Operating on a shoestring, he finished way closer to veteran incumbent Nancy Dacek than anyone expected (those were the days when Republicans occasionally won elections in Montgomery County).

On the strength of that performance, some Montgomery Democratic leaders like Ike Leggett and George Leventhal began promoting Taylor, and helped him win a House seat in 2002. What have they gotten for their investment of political capital? Nothing much.

Taylor doesn’t have a particularly substantial record, though he’s known as a man about town in Annapolis. He also beat a DUI rap — the news reports about his 2008 arrest outside a 7-11, where police found him sleeping in his idling Cadillac in the middle of the night, is an opposition researcher’s dream.

So what will Herman Taylor offer the voters, exactly?

Donna Edwards may not be the most popular pol inside the Beltway. She’s a fierce, doctrinaire progressive who came to Congress to do something, not just be somebody. She does not suffer fools gladly. And it’s true, she may not be running the most aggressive campaign for re-election yet — she had just $135,000 in her campaign account as of March 31. But she may not need to.

Remember, Edwards’ victory over Wynn was one of the most impressive upsets in recent Maryland political history. She mobilized a potent combination of labor unions, women’s groups and anti-war organizations and destroyed Wynn. They have not fully engaged in Edwards’ campaign yet because they may not have to.

But don’t worry — they’re watching closely and will come to her aid if she needs it. She’s prepared to do to the upstart from Annapolis what she did to a powerful sitting Congressman two years earlier. It should be fascinating to watch.

Josh Kurtz is a managing editor at Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. He can be reached at .

Previous Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Black and Blue?


Take Me Back to Old Virginny

The Political Lives of Peter Franchot

Bob and Weave

How to Make Prince George's County King

Kane is Able

To Be Frank

Gay Rights and Political Wrongs?

The Washington Post Goes to War

Snow Job

Unsolicited Advice for Ehrlich — Wait Till 2014

The Early Bird Gets the Worm?

Wayne's World May Be Another Planet

Miller Time Comes Early

Owings Owes an Explanation
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.