WASHINGTON — Nearly two months after Rep. Elijah Cummings’ death, 32 candidates — including his widow, a former staffer, and several state lawmakers — are competing in the packed race to fill his seat.
The longtime Baltimore congressman died Oct. 17 from “longstanding health conditions,” according to spokesperson. The 68-year-old Democrat left behind a legacy of fighting for civil rights, lowering prescription drug prices, and most recently, serving as a powerful voice on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Now, a pack of 24 Democrats and 8 Republicans are either challenging that legacy or dedicating their platforms to continuing it.
This election for the 7th Congressional District is one of eight special elections that occurred or were scheduled this year, and one of 28 in Maryland’s history — but it bears some differences from its predecessors.
Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said this race is notable because of the number of qualified candidates.
“Among this group of the 24, Democrats that have announced, there are quite a few — I’d say roughly a third to a quarter — that are truly credible candidates who have some reasonable expectation that they could win,” he told Capital News Service.
The standouts include Cummings’s widow, the former congressman who held Cummings’s seat before he was elected and several state lawmakers.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who married Cummings in 2008, ran for governor in 2017 and was later elected to chair Maryland’s Democratic Party. Weeks after she announced her candidacy, Cummings’s daughters endorsed Harry Spikes, a longtime Cummings staff member.
A formidable force in Baltimore, Kweisi Mfume is now running to regain the seat Cummings won after Mfume left to lead the NAACP.
Mfume, Rockeymoore Cummings and Spikes all spoke at Cummings’s funeral.
On the Republican side, Kimberly Klacik is a standout, as her social media posts about the conditions in West Baltimore spurred on President Donald Trump to attack Cummings over Twitter in July. Trump called Baltimore a “rodent infested mess” in a series of tweets.
The district is almost certain to choose a Democratic candidate, Eberly said, based on its voting history and because it is heavily gerrymandered.
“Republicans have no shot at the seat. I think we just need to acknowledge that,” Eberly said.
Yet, with their notoriously low voter turnout, special elections are sometimes decided on a couple of hundred votes, making it a toss-up for who can garner a plurality of the district’s votes.
The primary for the special election is Feb. 4, with the general election scheduled for April 28. Whoever wins the primary will also be listed on the April 28 ballot for election to the next Congress, in which case their tenure would be extended past January 2021, when Cummings’ term would have been up.