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Raskin Hopes Grass Roots Will Grow to Maryland House Win

Raskin, far right, listens as then-Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks at a news conference in Annapolis after the Maryland General Assembly approved a measure to ban capital punishment in March 2013. (Patrick Semansky/AP File Photo)

Jamie Raskin defeated a 32-year incumbent in his first race for the Maryland state Senate in 2006. Now he faces the same tall odds as one of eight candidates running to succeed Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who’s giving up his 8 th District seat to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikulski.

 “I go in with great optimism of the will,” Raskin, the state Senate majority whip, told CQ Roll Call recently.

Raskin, the son of John F. Kennedy aide and Institute for Policy Studies co-founder Marcus Raskin and husband of Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin, faces a number of experienced state legislators and former Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews , MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews’ wife, in the primary.

His campaign has curried much grassroots support. Raskin has reported more than 4,800 individual contributions -- the most of any non-incumbent Democrat running for Congress, his campaign said.Campaign manager Marshall Cohen attributed the grassroots support to the “engaged” citizenry of the 8 th District.

Raskin and Matthews have lapped the six other Democrats in fundraising, with Matthews now $198,000 ahead in cash on hand with $891,000; she pulled in nearly $200,000 more in third quarter contributions than Raskin. After taking in $500,000 in June alone, Matthews raised $564,000 in the third quarter. Matthews has averaged more than $266,000 per month in total contributions, with Raskin averaging about $155,000.

While replacing Van Hollen’s impact as a Democratic leader and ranking member of the Budget Committee will not be easy, Raskin is staking his chances on being a progressive Happy Warrior and leadership on key issues to progressives.

The 52-year-old Takoma Park resident, who is a professor at American University Washington College of Law, has focused his energy on a number of civil rights and constitutional issues in both the academic and legislative arenas, including marijuana legalization, campaign finance, and voting rights.

Raskin often says he wants to be in the “moral center,” not the “political center.” Hoping to “bridge the partisan divide,” he pointed to medical marijuana legislation he introduced with former Republican State Rep. David Brinkley who, like Raskin, is a cancer survivor, and a government spending transparency measure with Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., then a Maryland state senator.

A “Women For Jamie” rally in Bethesda  last month attracted a few hundred attendees, with a number of local women and state legislators touting Raskin’s work in the General Assembly and at American. Maryland Democratic state Sen. Susan Lee called him a “champion for women, children, and families.”

Raskin passed more than 100 billsin the state Senate and focused on a number of those at his Bethesda rally, such as restoring full voting rights to ex-felons, repeal of the death penalty, and a statewide DREAM Act. However, he is undaunted by moving from a Democratic supermajority in the state senate to a probable minority in the House, promising to “confront and refute the Tea Party at every conceivable turn.”

He hopes to continue a record of “effective progressive accomplishment” in the House, citing his floor leadership in Maryland’s passage of medical marijuana and death penalty abolition. Calling the Citizens United decision a “systemic defect” to the political system, he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of a constitutional amendment reversing the decision. He also supports independent redistricting commissions with multimember districts to end the system of “politicians choosing voters.”

Raskin has won endorsements from three members of Congress: House Dean John Conyers, D-Mich., Mark Takano, D-Calif., and John Sarbanes, D-Md. of the neighboring 3 rd District, as well as national progressive groups Democracy for America, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and the Sierra Club. Matthews was recently endorsed by six female state Representatives.

According to Raskin’s campaign, he has raised $453,000 in reported contributions from Maryland donors, with Matthews at $242,000. She is at $116,000 in PAC money raised, with $35,000 of that from the hospitality industry and $2,000 each from the committees of Rep. John Larson, D.-Conn., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. Raskin’s PAC contributions, totaling $45,000, include permissible funds from fellow state legislators, $10,000 from the Center for Humanist Activism, and $10,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

When asked why he would leave a safe seat in the state Senate majority for Congress, and a solidly progressive state Senate district for one that is roughly 60% Democrat, Raskin said, “The premise is that Congress is broken.  If you give up on Congress… you give up on America.”

Raskin’s challenge is to grow a devoted following in his small state Senate district of Takoma Park and Silver Spring to a win in an economically diverse congressional district that stretches from the D.C. suburbs to the Pennsylvania border.

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