WASHINGTON– Rep. Donna Edwards’ entrance into the Maryland Senate race signals the start of a potentially bruising primary season as Edwards and Rep. Chris Van Hollen begin the fight for endorsements and money.
Edwards, D-Fort Washington, officially entered the race Tuesday morning, announcing her candidacy in a YouTube video, and picked up an endorsement from former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, D, to help counter Van Hollen’s early momentum.
Several progressive groups, including former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, had sought to draft Edwards into the race after Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced her retirement last week.
“She took on [former Rep.] Al Wynn in a primary and knocked him out, so she’s got a track record of being able to take on someone who’s a strong candidate and beat him,” said Todd Eberly, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, on Friday.
Edwards, 56, will have to go through another strong candidate in Van Hollen, D-Kensington, who announced his candidacy in an email to supporters last Wednesday.
Van Hollen, 56, has already received endorsements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery County; and the entire Montgomery County Council, including County Executive Ike Leggett, D.
Van Hollen visited Annapolis on Tuesday and addressed the Maryland Senate.
“I think he certainly has an incentive to try to suggest that there’s a lot of support and momentum behind his candidacy,” said Michael Hamner, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. “And I think because there are other people within the party who could mount a strong challenge, he certainly has an incentive to try to reduce the chances that they’ll be successful and maybe also persuade some of them not to jump into the race.”
Van Hollen, with $1.7 million in cash-on-hand at the end of 2014, has a significant money advantage over Edwards to start the campaign. Edwards had just over $30,000 in her campaign account at the end of 2014.
But both candidates have strong abilities to raise funds — Van Hollen through the networks he’s built up since he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1990 and Edwards through the grass roots abilities of the progressive groups that support her campaign.
“Van Hollen has the name, has the respect of the Democratic Party within the state, as well as nationally–the chair of the congressional campaign committee, ranking member on the budget committee, long standing service in the Maryland legislature– and he’s got money,” Eberly said.
In running for the Senate seat, Edwards and Van Hollen will not be able to run for reelection to their House seats in 2016, creating instability in a Congressional delegation that has been one of the most stable in the nation.
Van Hollen was first elected in 2002 and Edwards won her seat in 2008.
Brown, D-Prince George’s, endorsed Edwards in a statement soon after her announcement and The Baltimore Sun reports that he is interested in running for her seat.
Del. Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery County, announced Monday that he would seek Van Hollen’s seat.
Other members of the delegation, including Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville; Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson; Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac; Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore; and Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville; are considering running for the Senate, which could create more openings.
The moves also will shake up Maryland’s leadership role in Congress. Van Hollen is the ranking member of the House Budget Committee and was considered a top candidate to replace Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as Democratic leader whenever she decided to retire.
“I think in many respects, if you are part of the Democratic Party of Maryland, the idea of losing the party seniority within the Democratic party, just so they can take shot in a primary at a nomination only one of them can win, I mean that’s not something the Democrat party would be thrilled about,” Eberly said.
Other potential Democratic candidates include Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former NAACP President Ben Jealous and former Del. Heather Mizeur.
In her announcement Tuesday, Edwards pointed out that she would be the first African-American senator from Maryland, a state with 30 percent black residents according to 2013 census data.
“In a state that is becoming increasingly diverse, on its way to becoming majority-minority, that a Senate seat opens up and whoever wins is likely to be the senator in that seat for as long as they want, is it going to be a well-off white guy from Montgomery County, or is it going to be someone more representative of the diversity within the state?” Eberly asked.
“And in the end I think as far as the party is concerned, all they care about is who they think is going to be the best candidate in the general election,” he said. “But they do need to be concerned about the message it sends.”
Hamner thinks Van Hollen could still gain traction with the African-American community with the right message.
“Where is he on the key issues and what sort of case could he make relative to her case on those issues? I think that they both will have to have a pretty broad appeal to win, not just the nomination, but to win the seat,” he said.