Van Hollen tops Edwards in Md. Senate primary
 
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is projected to win the Maryland Senate primary, beating out Rep. Donna Edwards D-Md.) in a bruising race to replace outgoing Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiAthletic directors honor best former student-athletes on Capitol Hill Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree MORE.
 
CNN called the race at about 9:35 p.m. Eastern. The Washington post followed moments later.
 
The win puts Van Hollen in a firm position to win November's general election in the Democratic-leaning state, while raising immediate questions about Edwards’ political future.
 
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Both contenders had gambled their well-secured House seats for a shot at the upper chamber, and the oft-heated campaign was a reflection of the high stakes surrounding the contest.
 
Edwards, a single mother and former political activist, cast herself as the true liberal choice, attacking Van Hollen as a status-quo lawmaker, too quick to compromise, who didn't represent the divergent voices of Maryland.
 
But Free State Democrats rejected that argument on Tuesday, siding with Van Hollen.
 
The pair was running to fill big shoes in the form of Mikulski, a 30-year Senate veteran –– and the longest-serving woman in congressional history –– who's retiring at the end of the year. 
 
The Democrats' top appropriator, Mikulski is a Maryland institution known as both a fierce negotiator and a liberal stalwart, and both Edwards and Van Hollen repeatedly invoked Mikulski's name on the campaign trail with vows to continue her legacy. Mikulski, for her part, declined to endorse either candidate.
 
The topics of race and gender played a conspicuous role throughout the campaign, as Edwards, who was vying to become just the second black woman in Senate history, continuously attacked Van Hollen as a consummate insider beholden to "business as usual" in Washington.
 
Edwards won some key endorsements from liberal groups like EMILY’s List and the National Organization of Women, which spent heavily to support her campaign. 
 
But in a blow to Edwards's bid, the campaign arm of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) took the unusual step of declining to back a member of the group, and just four individual members of the CBC offered their endorsement.
 
Van Hollen, meanwhile, enjoyed a stark financial advantage, raising almost $5 million more than Edwards. And he secured a long list of endorsements from local black powerbrokers, undermining Edwards's argument that he wouldn't take minority concerns to heart.
 
For Van Hollen, the victory is just the latest advancement in a congressional career that's seen plenty. Elected to the House in 2002, the former state senator was quickly welcomed into the party's top ranks when Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) carved out a special office to grant him a seat at the leadership table in 2006.
 
Later that year, Pelosi, herself a Maryland native, tapped Van Hollen to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in charge of managing House elections. The Democrats fared well under his leadership in 2008, picking up 21 seats on the wings of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFDA tobacco crackdown draws fire from right As Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural Trump's take on midterms: ‘Epic' win in Senate, ‘better than other sitting Presidents’ in House MORE's popularity, but the party suffered an embarrassing defeat just two years later, when Republicans flipped 63 seats to win back control of the chamber.
 
Van Hollen emerged largely unscathed, however, and was rewarded with the top Democratic spot on the influential Budget Committee, a post he still holds. 
 
From that position, he's been at the center of the government spending debate, lending him a powerful voice –– and plenty of prominence –– on the issue that's practically defined the entrenched partisanship that's plagued Capitol Hill under Obama.
 
It was that same budget prominence, however, that gave voice to one of Edwards's most trenchant attacks: the claim that Van Hollen is squishy when it comes to defending liberal values, particularly programs like Medicare and Social Security. In 2010, as the Tea Party was gaining steam and both parties were embracing deficit-reduction efforts, Van Hollen had endorsed a framework that included entitlement cuts loathed by many liberals.
 
“That mix of cuts, but also revenue, is the right way to go,” he said at the time.
 
Van Hollen also told The Wall Street Journal two years later that he's "willing to consider" all ideas –– including changes to Social Security and a hike in the Medicare eligibility age –– to broker a big budget deal being pushed by Obama.
 
Edwards pounced, attacking Van Hollen as a weak liberal too quick to cave for the sake of a deal.
 
"I said 'no' to the Social Security cuts Chris Van Hollen said he'd consider," Edwards said in one of her television ads this year.
 
Van Hollen has dismissed those criticisms, noting his role as the Democrats' front-line defender against the entitlement cuts proposed each year by the Republicans. Boosting that argument, his own budget blueprints have repeatedly included healthy hikes in entitlement funding.
 
It's unclear what the future holds for Edwards. A rising star in her own right, she currently heads the Democrats' Steering and Policy Committee. But Tuesday's loss means Edwards won't be returning to Capitol Hill next year, and she's not giving any hints about possible next moves.