By Christopher Weaver, David Hill and Ashley Lewis
DENVER – Three Maryland Democratic leaders led the party’s national convention Tuesday in “Renewing America’s Promise,” the theme for the evening.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski headlined the Democratic Women of the Senate’s “Checklist for Change” routine. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, of Kensington, introduced a handful of the beneficiaries of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which he heads, to the national party. And Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, spoke solo about turning the page on “eight years of debt, division and an economy in decline.”
Mikulski decried wage discrimination in her East Coast prime-time slot.
“Let’s start with equal pay for equal work,” she began. “It’s an absolute scandal that America’s women continue to earn just 77 cents for every dollar men earn.”
“This November, we can’t afford more of the same,” Mikulski said in closing, highlighting the convention’s overarching theme of change. “Let’s elect Barack Obama and finally get equal pay for equal work.”
Each of seven other Democratic, woman senators followed Mikulski’s lead to quickly address an issue on their shared agenda. “America deserves a FEMA that works,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, whose state suffered in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the federal agency’s response was anemic and slow.
“We know how important quality, affordable health care is,” said Sen. Blanche Lincoln, of Arkansas, where 18 percent of residents are uninsured.
“He (Obama) wants to export our products, not our jobs,” contributed Sen. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan.
Mikulski, first elected in 1987 is the longest-serving woman senator. She is widely regarded as a pioneer for her female colleagues. For many of Maryland’s woman delegates, she is a source of inspiration and hope.
“We’re so proud of her for being selected to speak at the convention. She’s helped Southern Maryland so much, and there is so much more employment in our area because of her,” said convention delegate Virginia Benedict, 64, of Newburg.
Mikulski’s personality, too, is legendary in Maryland, the delegates said.
“She’s a firebrand and a trendsetter,” said convention delegate Mary Jane Coolen, 47, of Cheverly. “And we’re darn proud of her.”
Earlier, Van Hollen, introduced Democratic congressional candidates from battleground jurisdictions around the country.
“The American people’s call for change has been ignored by the Republican Party,” he said. As DCCC chairman, Van Hollen’s job is to help candidates displace Republicans from House seats, and this year, there are more than 50 Democratic challengers around the country.
“For the change we need, we not only need to elect Barack Obama as president, we need to give him a robust Democratic majority in Congress,” Van Hollen said.
He highlighted Democratic victories in Illinois, Lousiana and Mississippi in special elections held after the party’s 2006 victories in Congress, saying, “we’ve won some districts around the country that no one thought we could win.”
Democrats need to put more energy into winning tough seats in districts like the Illinois 11th, where state Sen. Debbie Halverson is trying to seize retiring Republican Rep. Jerry Weller’s seat, or Georgia’s 21st, where Joe Garcia is running what Van Hollen called a “incredible grassroots campaign,” or Colorado’s 2nd, where Jared Polis, of Boulder, is vying for a seat.
Conspicuously absent from this list was Frank Kratovil, the Democratic candidate who could win Maryland’s 1st District for the Democrats for the first time since 1991. It is one of just two of Maryland’s eight congressional seats held a Republican. Kratovil is trailing in the polls.
The last Marylander to speak Tuesday night, Hoyer, called for a retreat from what he called “country club economics.”
The 14-term congressman accused Republicans of putting the needs of the wealthy over those of other Americans.
“We want an economy that works for all of us, for people who are struggling to own just one home, much less seven,” Hoyer said. “But the truth is that the Republicans in the White House and in the Senate have stopped real change.”
Hoyer criticized the Bush administration for its handling of the economy and the war in Iraq and accused presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of voting “in lockstep” with the administration.
“We can’t afford more of the same,” Hoyer said. “We won’t get the change we need with John McCain in the White House.”