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Three influential Maryland progressives announced their support Tuesday for Rep. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama Democrats scramble to figure out shutdown strategy MORE’s (D-Md.) Senate bid, calling it "laughable" that some liberal groups had already consolidated behind 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 (D-Md.).
In a conference call with reporters, Progressive Maryland co-founders Tom Hucker and Sean Dobson — as well as Kate Planco Waybright, the group's former executive director — said they’d back Van Hollen over Edwards in the race to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).
“These are the progressive leaders who have been at the cutting edge in Maryland, and I’ve been proud to work with them on the front lines, talking about the issues of economic justice, a clean environment, laws to protect consumers, cleaning up campaign finance reform system, and all these issues,” Van Hollen said on the call.
The three officials are no longer affiliated with Progressive Maryland. The group as a whole has not yet announced who it will support in the race.
Van Hollen is looking to cut into Edwards’s perceived strength among grassroots liberals after two national progressive groups, Democracy for America (DFA) and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), threw their weight behind Edwards early on.
Hucker and Dobson blasted the national groups, saying they had no business getting involved in a Democratic primary in Maryland.
“They have no presence in Maryland, none that I’ve ever seen, so I don’t know where their status comes from in terms of judging a Maryland lawmaker,” said Dobson. “I don’t get it.”
Hucker echoed that sentiment.
“[DFA and PCCC] are out-of-state groups,” he said. “I’ve personally been proud to have their support, but be under no illusion, they don’t have staff in Maryland. They don’t have a Maryland agenda. They’re out of state and in no position to reach judgment on Maryland officials.
“It’s laughable to view them as having any expertise when they’re 1,000 miles away reading media reports and not in the halls of Maryland, with no real-world experience working with activists on the ground to get things done in Maryland,” he continued.
DFA spokesman Neil Sroka shot back, calling it “a continuation of the desperate attacks we’ve seen from Chris Van Hollen designed to dupe voters in Maryland about who is the most progressive candidate.”
“It’s kind of sad that consultants and politicians like Dobson and Hucker think the only progressive support that counts is the kind that comes with a paycheck,” Sroka said. “That Van Hollen is seeking to appeal to these elite progressives speaks volumes about the difference between him and Edwards. She knows how to work with the grassroots and lift the party up by strengthening its base.”
Sroka argued that DFA has 30,000 Democratic members in Maryland who voted overwhelmingly to draft Edwards into the race because they were unsatisfied with Van Hollen’s candidacy.
“These attacks will only strengthen our resolve to get a progressive fighter like Donna Edwards into the Senate,” he said. “Our unpaid grassroots Democrats are the ones who knock on doors and raise money and do everything they can to elect the most progressive Democrats.”
The Maryland Senate race has broken early along establishment and grassroots liberal lines.
Van Hollen, the ranking member on the House Budget Committee and former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has been endorsed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), as well as major state-level lawmakers.
Van Hollen has also opened up a healthy fundraising lead, pulling in nearly $1 million last quarter and finishing with $4 million in cash on hand. He recently began dipping into his stockpile of money to raise his profile in Baltimore, releasing his third television ad of the cycle this week in Maryland’s largest city.
Edwards raised $638,000 last quarter, and finished with only about half that amount in cash on hand.
However, she’ll likely get a boost from EMILY’s List. The deep-pocketed group, which seeks to elect women candidates who support abortion rights, is backing her candidacy.
DFA and PCCC were also quick to get in Edwards’s corner, and the four-term lawmaker has sought to champion her progressive bona fides while slamming Van Hollen as “a Wall Street Democrat.”
Hucker shot back at that allegation on Tuesday’s call.
“I have a lot of respect for Edwards, but it’s an incredibly unfair and inaccurate representation,” he said. “[Van Hollen] is not defined by anyone else, he’s defined himself successfully. It’s really insulting and inappropriate.”
The race could still be upended by the late entrance of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who is weighing a bid.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released last month found that Cummings would be the front-runner if he enters the race, taking 33 percent support. Van Hollen and Edwards each took 20 percent support in the poll.
If Cummings did not run, the poll said, Edwards would lead with 38 percent support, with Van Hollen at 28 percent.