Senate races

Scramble for Maryland Senate begins

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Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s (D-Md.) surprise retirement announcement Monday sets off a mad scramble among Maryland Democrats for the wide-open contest.

“It will be a complete unleashing of decades of built-up bottlenecking in the Maryland political system,” predicted Andrew Platt, a Democratic strategist who’s worked in the state.

{mosads}Democrats are mentioning nearly every top name in national and state politics: Reps. Chris Van Hollen, Donna Edwards, John Delaney, Dutch Ruppersberger, Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes, as well as former Gov. Martin O’Malley, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and former Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown. 

Van Hollen, the ranking member on the Budget Committee and former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has long been eyeing the Senate and appears to be the best positioned among his House colleagues with a $1.7 million war chest.

“He would be the front-runner right now,” said one longtime Maryland Democratic strategist. “He’s well-respected on Capitol Hill and in Maryland, having worked in the state legislature. But others, knowing how rare this once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity is, will be watching. Each person has their own power base, path to victory and rationale.”

Delaney confirmed over Twitter on Monday that he’s exploring the option. The two-term Democrat is one of the wealthiest members of Congress with a net worth estimated over $100 million and could self-fund a bid.

Edwards, an African-American, is a fresh face for the party and a favorite among progressives, after she knocked off a longtime Democrat in 2008. Edwards’s district has been redrawn to have a more conservative bent, potentially making a statewide run more appealing to her.

Sarbanes, the son of former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, enjoys broad name recognition and a deep political network. 

Cummings is approaching 20 years in the House after more than a decade in the state legislature. He’s the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee and is well-respected among the caucus. 

Outside of the House, observers immediately point to O’Malley.

Though he’s mulling what many believe to be a quixotic presidential bid, an in-state opportunity could be attractive.

The former governor’s star has fallen some in recent years. Democrats were stunned in 2014, when Brown, then O’Malley’s No. 2, lost the gubernatorial race to Republican Larry Hogan in the deep blue state.

Some Democrats believe that, if O’Malley were to run and win the open Senate seat in 2016, it could help him regain his political momentum and potentially boost his presidential ambitions in 2020 or 2024.

“Today is a day to reflect on Senator Mikulski’s service to the people of Maryland, not engage in political speculation,” O’Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith said in an email.

Rawlings-Blake, the African-American mayor of Baltimore, is another Washington outsider who has built a national profile. She’s currently serving in leadership roles in both the Democratic National Committee and the National Conference of Mayors, and she’s been a frequent contributor on the Sunday talk-show circuit. She’s up for reelection in 2016, though.

Perez, who heads the Labor Department, is another progressive favorite. He was believed to be on the short list of people President Obama was considering to replace Attorney General Eric Holder. He would have to resign from his Labor post to run for Senate in 2016. 

The filing deadline is in mid-January of 2016 and with an April primary. 

Though the immediate intrigue is on the Democratic side, Republicans see an opening in the traditionally blue state after Hogan’s upset.

“After winning the Governor’s race in 2014, there’s no question that an open Senate seat in Maryland instantly becomes a top pickup opportunity for Republicans,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek. “While Democrats get ready for a bloody primary, we will have a top recruit waiting for whoever emerges. Mikulski’s retirement creates yet another problem for a party that is over $20 million in debt.” 

Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) could be atop their list. He’s also has been exploring long-shot White House bid. Ehrlich served one term as governor of Maryland but lost to O’Malley in 2006. He challenged O’Malley again in 2010 but got crushed by 14 percentage points.

Rep. Andy Harris, Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh, current Lieutenant Gov. Boyd Rutherford and Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who lost a Senate bid in 2012 and House bid in 2014, are also potential candidates. 

Two other names to watch are Ben Carson and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

Carson has moved to Florida, but the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon still has a house in Baltimore County. He’s currently near the top of many polls in the GOP presidential race, and his political adviser told The Hill that’s where his focus is right now.

Steele has a high profile from his time as chairman of the RNC and as an analyst on MSNBC. He served as Ehrlich’s lieutenant governor and lost a 2006 race to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). 

The wheels on both sides will crank into gear after 78-year-old Mikulski’s surprise announcement. At a press conference in Baltimore, she said she wanted to spend the next two years focused on the Democratic legislative agenda rather than on a campaign.

Mikulski is the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress, having been elected to the House in 1976 and moving over to the Senate 10 years later. She served as the first female chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, until Democrats lost the body’s majority after the 2014 elections.

On Monday, the senator declined to say who she thought might seek to be her replacement but said she would happily support whichever Democrat ends up running in the general election. 

“Maryland has a lot of talent, and they’ll be telling you about it within the next 10 minutes,” Mikulski said. “I’ll leave them to get it out there. Of course, we’ll be supporting the Democratic nominee. The primary is April 2016 — that’s what I had to face, the reality of a clock.”

Tags Anthony Brown Barbara Mikulski Chris Van Hollen Donna Edwards John Delaney Martin O'Malley Maryland Senate

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