Muddy politics: Democratic candidates duke it out for Maryland US Senate seat

Congresswoman Donna Edwards and Congressman Chris Van Hollen. © AFP
Voters in Maryland will not only be casting their vote for presidential nominees on Tuesday, but will also pull the lever in a hotly contested US Senate primary between two Democratic representatives – one a white man, and the other a black woman.

The contest between congressman Rep. Chris Van Hollen and congresswoman Rep. Donna Edwards, both of Maryland, will determine who is most likely to succeed the longest-serving woman ever in the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, as she is retiring.

Both candidates largely agree on the issues, but while Van Hollen positions himself as a pragmatic deal-maker, Edwards stresses her story as a single, black mother. Edwards would also be only the second Africa-American woman ever to serve in the US Senate.

The contest has inflamed passions despite their shared progressive politics, even eliciting comment from neighboring states.

“The choice in this election is very clear,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia) said, according to the Associated Press. “It is whether the people of Maryland want somebody who can be effective, or somebody who’s going to bask in her own feelings of moral superiority because of various and sundry factors, and effectiveness has nothing to do with it.”

Interestingly, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus have refused to back Edwards through their political arms, as even the White House urged Edwards to rescind an advertisement suggesting Van Hollen had supported the National Rifle Association.

Van Hollen is a close ally of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and was seen as her successor before he entered the Senate race, AP reported.

Throwing a curve in the race, pro-women political group Emily’s List spent $3.4 million supporting Edwards. Emily’s List successfully backed Mikulski’s election as a lawmaker, and they want to replace her with another woman.

“We have not had an African-American woman senator for 17 years, and that’s just not acceptable,” said Marcy Stech, a spokeswoman for Emily’s List, told NPR. “Donna’s perspective as a single mom, someone who sent to Planned Parenthood for her health care, someone who had to talk with her son about how to interact with law enforcement – that’s exactly the kind of profile we need in the Senate.”

More than 40 percent of the Democratic primary electorate in Maryland is expected to be African-American, and turnout is expected to be high in the city of Baltimore, where two black women are front runners for the mayoral primary.

“It’s not that the black community doesn’t like Van Hollen. The issue is that there’s little ideological daylight between the two,” Mileah Kromer, a professor of political science and a pollster at Goucher College in Baltimore, told NPR. “Now you have an opportunity to send someone who actually looks like you to the Senate, and that’s not lost on a lot of black women in Baltimore City.”

AP reported a recent poll showing Van Hollen leading, but many expect the outcome to be close.