WASHINGTON–Maryland’s race for the U.S. Senate in 2016 is intensifying, and the two main Democratic contenders are using competing endorsements from local and national leaders in an effort to showcase their political strengths.
Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards have been campaigning for months. Both entered the race in March, just days after incumbent Barbara Mikulski announced she would not run for re-election to a sixth term.
According to a poll commissioned by her campaign, Edwards, who represents Maryland’s 4th District, including portions of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties, leads Van Hollen by five points.
The details of the telephone poll, conducted by the Global Strategy Group of 600 likely Democratic primary voters, has not been released by the Edwards campaign, and it is the only poll on record that has been commissioned by either campaign so far.
“You have to take the poll with a grain of salt. The campaign would only release things that are strategically beneficial to them,” said Stella Rouse, a University of Maryland government and politics professor and director of the university’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship.
“That being said, Larry Hogan (the Republican elected Maryland governor in an upset last year) released a similar campaign-commissioned poll, and that turned out to be true,” Rouse added.
While the Edwards campaign may have its poll, the Van Hollen campaign points to its endorsements as an indicator of the direction of the race.
Van Hollen represents Maryland’s 8th District, including the majority of Montgomery County, Maryland’s most populous county, and portions of Frederick and Carroll Counties. He has dwarfed Edwards not only in endorsements, but also in fundraising.
As of June 30, the end of the last reporting period, Van Hollen had $3.75 million in cash on hand, while Edwards has almost $419,000. New fundraising numbers are expected within the next two weeks.
Just like his fundraising, where Van Hollen has drawn most of his money from within the state of Maryland, he has been endorsed by a large number of Maryland political leaders.
Van Hollen has backing from notable Maryland state lawmakers as well as notable state politicians, including Attorney General Brian Frosh, and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.
“Anyone watching this race knows that Chris is building a huge amount of momentum and doing everything right to secure a clear path to victory,” said Van Hollen campaign spokesman Erik Dorey.
“Chris is winning key endorsements from community activists and elected officials everywhere in the state, and he’s raising contributions from fellow Marylanders who are engaged and excited by his campaign,” Dorey added.
The Edwards campaign argues that the kind of endorsements Van Hollen is getting aren’t helping him with Democratic Maryland voters.
“Congressman Van Hollen is trying to shore up his faltering campaign with insider endorsements and special interest money,” said Ben Gerdes, communications director for the Edwards campaign. “Donna is winning in the polls because she’s the only progressive fighter in this race willing take on the special interests that stand in the way of progress for Maryland’s middle class families.”
Van Hollen has done well at securing local politicians, including many of those from Prince George’s County, Edwards’ home turf, including Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, and Sen. Joanne Benson, D-Prince George’s.
“It’s not about race, creed or color; it’s about a person. We are looking for somebody who has the fire in their belly to serve, and that’s Chris Van Hollen,” Benson said in June when she first endorsed Van Hollen.
“Certain endorsements certainly have more meaning than others,” Rouse said. “But it’s about quality over quantity.”
Rouse does believe that Benson’s endorsement of Van Hollen is significant. “An African American woman endorsing a white candidate, that’s important,” she said.
Much like with her campaign’s fundraising, which has more financial backing from outside Maryland, Edwards has found greater success with endorsements by national groups. Edwards has the support of Emily’s List, a group whose mission is to elect pro-choice Democratic women to office, and JStreet, a popular pro-Israel and pro-peace group.
While Edwards does not have the number of local endorsements that Van Hollen does, she has received the backing of multiple state senators such as Karen Montgomery, D-Montgomery, and Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, and Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s.
Edwards has also secured the endorsement of multiple celebrities, including actor/singer Barbara Streisand and “Star Wars” director J.J. Abrams.
“We’re proud of our endorsements,” Gerdes said. “They show that we have strong support of women, working families, and progressives in this race.”
Within the last week, Edwards has added two more endorsements: the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers and the Maryland State Council of Machinists. Edwards already had the support of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Teamsters Local 639.
Van Hollen has also received support from multiple union groups, including the Teamsters Joint Council No. 55 and Teamsters Joint Council No. 62.