Edwards has her share of allies on Capitol Hill, and she has been tapped repeatedly by leadership for key roles. She led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" program for two cycles, and some pushed for her to chair the DCCC for the 2016 election. She was a coleader of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues last Congress, and she serves as a cochair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
In the Senate race, she boasts support from a spate of national progressive groups, as well as EMILY's List, which fundraises for women Democratic candidates who favor abortion rights.
But while she's ascended steadily in power and national prominence, she's rankled many CBC members and Maryland Democrats, the coalitions that might have served as her most natural alliances—and would help her overcome a tough primary field that currently includes Rep. Chris Van Hollen. More importantly, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a popular veteran CBC member, could jump into the race too, making Edwards' search for support even tougher.
Some CBC members were open in their desire to see Cummings enter the race. "I can only speak to the positive nature of the desire to get Elijah Cummings to run," said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. "There is a lot of interest in his candidacy from CBC members. ... I would be stunned if the majority of the members aren't supporting him."
That preference could say as much about Edwards' standing within the CBC as it does about Cummings'.
"Donna Edwards has always been an outsider to the caucus," said the former staffer with CBC ties. "The CBC overwhelmingly doesn't think that Donna Edwards has managed her relationships well or even developed one. "¦ I have heard members say that they will go and campaign for Van Hollen before they will support Donna Edwards."
Edwards responded to such criticism in a statement, dismissing her anonymous detractors. "Whenever I've taken on a fight for the people of our state, I've done so proudly and put my name on it," she said. "Marylanders do not need more backroom politics, they deserve a senator who will have their backs regardless of the circumstances. Maryland's working families will always know where I stand—with them."
In her home state's powerful congressional delegation, some say her public breaks with other Maryland Democrats—and an unwillingness to forge relationships—have also hurt her standing. Asked about Edwards' Senate candidacy, one Maryland Democratic member responded: "There are a lot of us looking at this race. Most of us are friends—except maybe the possibility of one that I'm not going to get into."
Edwards came to Congress in 2008 as an outsider, knocking off Rep. Albert Wynn—a popular figure within the CBC—in a contentious primary. And while she's rapidly climbed upward through the House ranks, to some on the Hill that outsider status has mostly stuck.