In the wake of the surprise retirement announcement from five-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, state Democrats "are bracing for a bitter primary battle fight along gender, race, geographic, and ideological lines," The Hill reported Tuesday.
The stakes are high in Maryland, a deep blue state with a recent tradition of electing the same Democrats to the Senate again and again: Mikulski became Maryland's senior senator after veteran Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes retired in 2006 after 30 years in that chamber.
"It's going to be a nasty, nasty primary," one Democratic legislator told the website. "When you have primaries with people with similar voting records, it usually comes down to character attacks."
Just two Democrats, both of them members of the House of Representatives, have officially entered the race to replace Mikulski thus far: Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards.
But the rare Senate opening "has set off a political frenzy among ambitious Democrats positioning themselves for promotions in this traditionally blue state," The New York Times noted.
An open Senate seat in Maryland "is a once-in-a-career opportunity," said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College. "You have a whole lot of folks within the Democratic Party who would love a promotion, and because of the nature of Maryland, whoever gets the nomination is the odds-on favorite to become the senator. So, I would expect more people to get into this race."
Edwards, an African-American who has gained the support of left-liberal grassroots groups like Democracy for America, plans to highlight what she says is the importance of replacing Mikulski with another woman in the Senate.
But she may not be the only black or female candidate in the race. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who was defeated in the 2002 gubernatorial race by Republican Rep. Robert Ehrlich, may get in.
Others who may run include Rep. Elijah Cummings, former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous and former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year.
Besides Van Hollen and Edwards, four of the remaining five Democrats in the state congressional delegation have said they are considering a run for the Senate, according to the Times. The four include Cummings,
ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Select Committee on Benghazi.
They also include Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and Rep. John Sarbanes, son of the former senator, and second-term Congressman John Delaney. In November, Delaney —
heavily favored and running in a congressional district that had been gerrymandered to ensure a Democratic victory —
edged out his Republican challenger by just over 1 percentage point.
with a net worth estimated at more than $100 million —
is one of the richest members of Congress and would have no difficulty self-financing a Senate run.
The only Democratic member of the Maryland House delegation not contemplating a Senate bid is Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, a member of the House since 1981 who does not want to relinquish his post as the No. 2 Democrat there.
In Maryland, a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2-1, the GOP is a decided underdog. Although no Republican has won a Senate election there since 1980, the party has been buoyed by Republican Larry Hogan's decisive upset election victory in November, when he defeated Brown by more than 4 points.
And many in the Republican Party believe that with a bruising, divisive Democratic primary possibly shaping up, they may be in a position to capitalize on the opposition's political disarray next year.
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