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Maryland’s blue-as-the-Chesapeake politics means incumbents are rarely ejected from office. As a result, the state’s teeming political talent is backed up in lower offices.
“We are lucky in Maryland to be represented by a deep bench of talented, hardworking and dedicated politicians,” said CR Wooters, a former aide to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “Whenever any of the statewide or federal offices are open, the voters are virtually guaranteed a menu of qualified candidates.”
This cycle, local political operatives are focused on the race to succeed Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. But a future open Senate seat — perhaps in 2016 or later — would blow open Maryland’s political bottleneck.
That’s because Maryland has had one open-seat Senate race in the past quarter-century. In 2006, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin won his first term and cruised to re-election six years later.
His colleague, Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, is up for re-election in 2016. Most Maryland Democratic operatives remain nearly certain the 77-year-old Senate Appropriations chairwoman has no plans to retire.
But if a Senate seat ever opens up, Katy bar the door. Every House Democrat from Maryland would look at running with two likely exceptions: House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. The remaining handful of House Democrats would consider running in an open Senate race, including Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, John Delaney, Donna Edwards, John Sarbanes and Van Hollen.
Van Hollen, especially, would face a major decision: Does he want to be speaker or a senator? A former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, Van Hollen is an ally of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. He’s made inroads with his colleagues to possibly succeed Pelosi some day, but Democrats also mention him in nearly every conversation about an open Senate seat.
Like Van Hollen, Edwards is a frequently mentioned Senate contender. She’s moved quickly up the ranks at the DCCC, despite her poor fundraising. She has unquestionably strong ties to labor and is one of the few female political players in Maryland.
What’s more, black Democrats in Maryland have yearned to hold a Senate seat. In addition to Edwards, Cummings could also run with a strong base in Baltimore. If the pair ran against each other in a crowded field, they would neutralize the black vote.
“Donna and Elijah have to have a serious conversation as to whether there’s a real possibility that two African-Americans could run against each other in a Democratic primary without mutually destroying each other,” a Maryland Democratic operative said.