Maryland after Mikulski
© Anne Wernikoff

Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiForeign policy congressional committees need to call more women experts Lobbying World Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (D-Md.) is the living, breathing definition of the line, "one of a kind." It is not a cliche or hyperbole to say without reservation that we will not see her like ever again.

As many have repeatedly said, "She doesn't look like a senator." Being under 5 feet tall has never stopped her. She started as a true community organizer and social worker in her native Baltimore. She led an effort to stop a highway from destroying her neighborhood and parlayed that into a Baltimore City Council seat in 1971.


Not shy or lacking ambition, she ran for the U.S. Senate in 1974. She faced an enormously likeable and able liberal Republican incumbent, Charles "Mac" Mathias. She lost. Then two years later, she was elected to the U.S. House and in 1986 she was elected to the U.S. Senate.

She is the longest serving woman in U.S. Senate history and in Congress. Now she has decided not so seek what would be an automatic reelection. She is 78 years old, but more important, her Democratic Party is now in the minority. She rose to chair of the Appropriations Committee. That's clout! But not being in power is, I assume she felt, no fun and not the same.

She left the stage in classic Mikulski fashion, with these words: "Do I spend my time raising money or do I spend my time raising hell?" Leave no doubt, over the next two years Mikulski will not disappear. This old-fashioned liberal with working-class roots and a Baltimore base was unbeatable. I challenge you to name her last Republican opponent in 2010. (It was Eric Wargotz. He got 36 percent of the vote.)

Now the Republicans have delusions of victory and picking up this seat. It won't happen. Yes, I know they pulled an enormous upset for in the gubernatorial election (electing Larry Hogan) but that was an aberration and in a non-presidential year. This seat is safely Democratic in 2016.

Now the talk is who will be the next Democratic senator from Maryland. Just this week, former two-term Gov. Martin O'Malley took himself out of the race. O'Malley is all but an announced candidate for president. He is at this time considered a very long shot. But he is making the rounds in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. His candidacy reminds me of another former governor's quest in 1976 — that of Jimmy Carter. If the presidential run should not succeed, he is a possible candidate for vice president or a Cabinet post if his party takes the White House.

Right now, the two leading contenders are Reps. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenMaryland GOP governor who's criticized Trump says he's considering 2024 presidential run Communist China won't change — until its people and the West demand it Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law MORE and John SarbanesJohn Peter Spyros SarbanesPelosi, Democrats press case for mail-in voting amid Trump attacks Cornell to launch new bipartisan publication led by former Rep. Steve Israel An inclusive democracy Demands DC statehood MORE.

Van Hollen announced this week that he is running for the seat. Obviously, by this move, Van Hollen is forgoing his dreams of one day becoming the Speaker of the U.S. House. I have found Van Hollen to be knowledgeable and substantive, but not terribly exciting or inspiring. He's done all the right things — politically. He's climbed the political ladder, starting with the Maryland state legislature. If I had to sum him up with one word, it would be "conventional."

Sarbanes has the benefit of a very good Maryland political name. His father, Paul Sarbanes, was the longest serving Senator in Maryland history. Previously he had served in the U.S. House. Sarbanes shares his father's low-profile image. His bizarrely shaped district puts his name in many different areas. Right now he has not been prominently mentioned, but other, more active candidates fear his potential.

Two African-American House members are talked about. Longtime Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFacial recognition tools under fresh scrutiny amid police protests The sad spectacle of Trump's enablers Democrat Kweisi Mfume wins House primary in Maryland MORE and Rep. Donna EdwardsDonna F. EdwardsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems, GOP dig in on police reform ahead of House vote The Memo: Strife turns up heat on Trump Democratic Senate candidate blasts own party for racial 'foghorn' MORE. Edwards has a compelling life story, but Jewish voters will have a major problem with her and her perceived anti-Israel votes and actions.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is up for reelection in 2016. I seriously doubt her statewide appeal.

Another Baltimore-area congressman mentioned is Dutch RuppersbergerCharles (Dutch) Albert RuppersbergerLawmakers introduce legislation to establish national cybersecurity director OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Naval Academy board chair calls for Confederate names to be removed from school MORE. He has been Hamlet-like for other offices and his appeal, I believe, would be limited to Baltimore County.

The guy with the big bucks and who would self-finance his campaign is Rep. John Delaney. Delaney barely won his district in a surprisingly close election last year. In limited contact with him, I found him to be "all hat, no cattle." Says nothing memorable or insightful and there is a terribly scripted patina to him.

One who is without a doubt the reigning lefty in the field is State Sen. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinDemocrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won't wear masks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems, GOP dig in on police reform ahead of House vote MORE. Raskin is a law professor at American University and a former editor of the Harvard Law Review (something he doesn't remind you of or mention, unlike our president). Raskin suffers from the pejorative moniker "Takoma Park liberal." Takoma Park is widely called "Berkeley (Calif.) East." Raskin is brilliant and genuinely funny. In a debate, he would clobber any of his opponents and is by far the most appealing and attractive candidate. But the rap on him would be that he is too far to the left and can't get votes out of his local district. Raskin might have the last laugh, because if he decides not to run for the U.S. Senate, he could run for Van Hollen's House seat and would be the favorite for that position.

Look, it's a free country; everybody thinks they have a chance. This race will evolve. Some will drop out. So there's plenty of time to muse further. One thing is certain: The Democrats will hold this seat.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.