Democratic voters on Tuesday will decide the party’s nominees for Senate in Maryland and Pennsylvania, two races that have featured hard-fought battles between candidates split along establishment, gender and — at least in Maryland’s case — racial lines.
In both contests, a late front-runner has emerged: The most recent polls show former Clinton administration official Katie McGinty and Rep. Chris Van Hollen with leads over their foremost opponents, onetime Rep. Joe Sestak and Rep. Donna Edwards, respectively. Both are backed by much of the Democratic Party establishment — support that has given them a financial edge in the elections’ final weeks.
[Related: Pennsylvania Democrats Want to Know: Why McGinty?]
In McGinty’s case, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, EMILY’S List, and unions have spent more than $4 million on her behalf in the race’s final month alone. An automated survey from Harper Polling found the former chief of staff to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf leading Sestak 39 percent to 33 percent, with another candidate, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, capturing 15 percent of the vote. Three weeks ago, Harper found McGinty trailing Sestak, 41 percent to 31 percent.
Many of the ads backing McGinty have featured her endorsement from President Barack Obama and attacks against Sestak’s record on Social Security.
[Related: Dem Political Groups to Spend $1.1 Million Boosting McGinty]
“What happened here was you had so many different groups that were able to carry different kinds of messages to appeal to different kinds of voters,” said Brock McCleary, a Republican pollster who runs Harper. “You have almost an orchestra of messages rather than a single blunt-force approach.”
Sestak, who was the party’s nominee for Senate in 2010, has argued that voters aren’t looking for institutional support during a time in which political outsiders have found more success than ever before in each party’s presidential primary. His campaign and his super PAC have yet to run a single negative ad this primary, an unusual tactic in a tight race.
In Maryland, Van Hollen’s lead over Edwards is even larger, according to recent polls. A survey from Monmouth University last week found the congressman supported by 52 percent of respondents, 16 points higher than Edwards’ 36 percent.
Edwards’s campaign, which is also supported by EMILY’s List, has made the case that the Senate needs an unapologetic progressive champion, accusing Van Hollen of being too quick to compromise on his liberal values. It has also argued that the Senate needs more gender and racial diversity: If elected, Edwards would be only the second African-American woman to serve in the upper chamber.
But Van Hollen’s campaign has shot back that he’s a more effective legislator, both in Congress and in dealing with constituent services.
The campaign has taken on a harsher tone of late. Officials with the Edwards campaign on Friday accused The Washington Post of using “racially coded” language to describe the congresswoman’s record. It was a sign of the boiling racial tensions in this primary, in which the electorate is expected to be about 40 percent black.
“That tension exists because it’s a diverse party,” said Steve Kearney, a onetime aide to former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. “You don’t really have that issue on the other side so much.”
Both states also feature a handful of competitive House primaries.
- Maryland’s 4th Congressional District: The race to replace Edwards has drawn six Democratic candidates, including former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, former Prince George’s County prosecutor Glenn Ivey and state Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk.
- Maryland’s 8th Congressional District: This race has been highlighted by the more than $12 million spent by one candidate, local businessman David Trone, from his own personal bank account, a record for a House candidate. He’s taking on former local TV anchor and Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews and state Sen. Jamie Raskin in a tight contest.
- Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District: Rep. Chaka Fattah’s long reign in the House might finally come to an end after being indicted on federal corruption charges last summer. He faces a handful of opponents, including former state Rep. Dwight Evans.
- Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional District: Rep. Bill Shuster is taking on tea-party-backed Art Halvorson in a race some once pegged as dangerous for the longtime incumbent. Halvorson, however, has raised only $260,000, and Republicans tracking the race say they expect Shuster to pull out a victory.