No sooner had Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D.-Md., made her surprise announcement Monday afternoon that she would not seek a sixth term in 2016, then speculation among Democrats in Maryland and nationwide focused on Martin O’Malley as her heir apparent — if he wants to run for the Senate.
When he was mayor of Baltimore (1999-2007), rock music-loving, magnetic O’Malley was dubbed "the hottest political property since Jack Kennedy" by political pundit Chris Matthews. Having just completed his second term as governor of Maryland, O’Malley has been exploring a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But like Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and others mentioned as opponents to Hillary Clinton, O’Malley only manages single digits in polls inevitably showing the former secretary of state with a massive lead among Democrats.
With near-universal name recognition across the Free State and a solid financial base in Baltimore, O’Malley, 52, would be the instant favorite for nomination if he chose to run. The only thing working against him would appear to be history: the last Maryland governor to go on to the Senate was Democrat Herbert R. O’Conor, who was U.S. senator from 1947-53.
The last Baltimore mayor to run for the Senate was Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., who lost a tight Senate race in 1958 to Republican Rep. Glenn Beall. D’Alessandro’s daughter is House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Cal.).
Whether O’Malley runs or not, at least three Democratic House Members are reportedly eyeing the Senate race: Chris Van Hollen, past chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and long regarded as a future speaker of the House (whenever Democrats win a majority again); Rep. John Sarbanes, who has strong name recognition as the son of popular former five-term Sen. Paul Sarbanes; and sophomore Rep. John Delaney, who has deployed personal wealth on his House races and had the pre-primary backing of Bill Clinton.
Although Republicans last elected a U.S. senator from Maryland in 1980 (when the late liberal GOP Sen. Charles 'Mac' Mathias won his third and final term), the stunning election of Republican Larry Hogan as governor last fall has clearly whetted the party’s hopes of capturing other offices in increasingly Democratic Maryland.
"It will be a difficult race, given the political makeup of our state," Kevin Igoe, former executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, told Newsmax shortly after Mikulski’s announcement, "but we are sure to have a formidable candidate with strong credentials carrying our banner."
At this point, the name on most Republican lips is that of Michael Steele, first black chairman of the Republican National Committee and former lieutenant governor of Maryland. As the Republican U.S. Senate nominee in 2006, Steele drew 44% of the vote against Democrat Ben Cardin — or the best showing his party has made in a Senate race since 1980.
Also mentioned as a Senate prospect is Bob Ehrlich, Maryland’s last Republican governor. Beaten for re-election by O’Malley in ’06 and again in a rematch in 2010, Ehrlich nonetheless retains considerable loyalty among his party’s grass-roots. The former governor (who also served as congressman and state legislator) recently signaled he was interested in a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in ’16. But like O’Malley, Ehrlich may have a better chance if he lowers his sights.
Maryland’s lone Republican House member, three-termer Andy Harris, is getting widespread encouragement for a Senate race. Sporting lifetime ratings of 90.67% with the American Conservative Union and 79% with the Heritage Action Fund, physician and U.S. Naval Reserve officer Harris is considered far more of a solid conservative than Ehrlich and Steele, usually regarded as more center-right Republicans.
Whether at 56 he wants to give up a safe House seat for an uncertain Senate bid is unclear at this time.
"And don’t forget that any of our state legislators will get a free ride if he or she wants to run for the Senate," Igoe told us, referring to the 14 GOP senators and 51 members of the House of Delegates who won’t face the voters until 2018, "So while the demographics are difficult, we do have a team of players."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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