BETHESDA, Md. — The loudest applause at Rep. Chris Van Hollen's Senate primary victory party actually wasn't for the local congressman, or even for taking the Senate majority back.
It was when Van Hollen praised the woman he's seeking to succeed, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
[Related: The Out of This World Legacy of Supernova Mikulski] [Related: Van Hollen, McGinty Win Democratic Senate Primaries] "As I said long before the new Star Wars movie came out, when Barbara Mikulski is with you the force is with you," Van Hollen told the crowd gathered at a Montgomery County hotel.
For Democrats, the work to unify begins immediately to ensure that Van Hollen will succeed the retiring legend Mikulski, a race in which he will be an odds-on favorite.
Mikulski is fond of calling the delegation, "Team Maryland" and she has long been the captain. She's expected to meet with reporters early Wednesday in the Fell's Point neighborhood of her native Baltimore alongside Benjamin L. Cardin, who will become the state's senior senator.
Van Hollen thanked his opponent in the primary, Rep. Donna Edwards from his neighboring district, for a phone call shortly before he took the stage in a packed house that included no shortage of local elected officials.
Among those in attendance Tuesday night was House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer.
Hoyer called Edwards and Van Hollen "two very able people," but there could be no secret as to whom he had supported after he made the rounds at a hotel ballroom here.
"I think Chris has more experience and shown more leadership qualities, but as you know, I didn't endorse in the primary," Hoyer said. "I'm a good friend of Chris's, and I think he does very, very well. He did very well in the House, and I'm sure if he's elected he'll do very well in the Senate."
Van Hollen, who came to the House in 2003, has been the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a leading voice within the caucus — and seen, like Hoyer, as a potential future Speaker had he not decided to leave the chamber.
"Maryland, you have done yourself proud," said former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend speaking ahead of Van Hollen.
"Thank all of you Maryland Democrats in this room and across this great state," Van Hollen said. "You understand that great saying that you are the change that you seek in this world."
Looking ahead to November, Van Hollen emphasized that he intends to campaign statewide, rather than just in the urban and suburban Democratic strongholds.
"Sometimes Democrats only campaign in the big Democratic areas. We've got to campaign for every vote in every part of the state," Van Hollen said.