Web Activism Defeats Gilchrest and Wynn
Two Maryland Congressmen with more than three decades of combined House experience lost their jobs Tuesday, unable to beat back fierce primary challenges driven by strong ideological coalitions.
In the 1st District, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest was defeated in the GOP contest by state Sen. Andy Harris. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Harris had 44 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for Gilchrest and 21 percent for state Sen. E.J. Pipkin. And in the 4th district, Rep. Al Wynn was trounced in the Democratic primary by activist Donna Edwards, who led by 25 points with 76 percent of the vote counted.
The obvious explanation for those losses is that Gilchrest wasn't conservative enough for his district and Wynn wasn't liberal enough for his. In that sense, the results were a simple function of base-voter dissatisfaction.
But the defeat of two entrenched incumbents also serves as a reminder of a growing trend in modern campaigns: The Internet has made it exponentially easier to nationalize races that used to be seen as strictly local affairs. Not long ago, a Democrat in California didn't know or care who represented Prince George's County in the House, nor did a Texas Republican pay much attention to the Congressman from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Now they do know and they do care, because the Web makes it much easier for them to do so.
And the money followed. According to CQ MoneyLine, Edwards received twice as much money from California donors as she did from Maryland, and nearly as much from New York as from her home state. On the GOP side, Harris got roughly half of individual contributions from out of state, while Gilchrest got more than 90 percent from Maryland.
That only covers direct donations to the candidates' campaigns. The Sierra Club and MoveOn.org used e-mail and the Web to mobilize their national donor bases and help pay for ads backing Edwards, while Club for Growth tapped its wealthy network to hit Gilchrest.
Of course, these were not the first campaigns to be driven by the Internet. The power of the Web helped put Howard Dean's (D) presidential campaign on the map in 2004, and it also drove Ned Lamont's (D) Connecticut Senate bid in 2006 and a host of other candidacies. Tuesday's results were just the latest -- and most local -- evidence that members have to pay close attention to their districts. If dissatisfaction is allowed to build at home, it can go viral.
More on these races:
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