By Jim EllisOct. 21, 2019 — The death of veteran Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Baltimore) just days ago, on Oct. 17, creates an obvious vacancy in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, which is anchored in the city of Baltimore. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has a defined window to schedule the replacement special election for the late congressman, who was first elected in a 1996 special vote.
Cummings passed away in Baltimore, where he had been hospitalized at Johns Hopkins University’s medical facility. It is presumed that Gov. Hogan will wait until after the mourning period to schedule the special election, but he must act within 10 days of the occurred vacancy. The primary must be held within 65 days of the call date, with a special general election following within 65 days after the primary election date in order to comply with Maryland election law.
The calendar means the primary must be scheduled on or before Dec. 31 with the entire special cycle completed on or before March 5. Since the Maryland 2020 primary is scheduled for April 28, the 7th District special election must, therefore, be a stand-alone vote in order to meet the state’s mandated timetable.
Maryland employs a closed primary system, so Cummings’ congressional successor will be decided in the Democratic primary. The district has a Democratic Party registration figure of 68.3 percent, compared to Republicans’ 15.9 percent, and “Unaffiliated” 14.5 percent. Segments of under 3,300 people apiece belong to the Libertarian, Green, and other parties. Early voting will be in effect for the special election. Under state law, the early voting period begins the second Thursday prior to the election and ends the immediate Thursday before.
The district houses almost 60 percent of Baltimore city, in addition to encompassing over half of Howard County and just under a quarter of Baltimore County. The 7th shares Baltimore city with the 3rd (Rep. John Sarbanes) and 2nd CDs (Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger). The seat is majority African American/black, registering 53.6 percent of the demographic unit within the district confines as compared to the white population of 33.4 percent. Asians represent seven percent of the constituency, and Latinos just under four percent.
Since the election calendar has defined windows, we will not see a situation where candidates are running in two elections on the same day: a special to fill the unexpired term, and then the regular election for the coming two-year term. Because Gov. Hogan must schedule the primary election before Jan. 1, the party nominees will become known prior to the Jan. 24 candidate filing deadline for the 2020 election cycle. Since the Democratic special election nominee becomes the prohibitive favorite to win the seat, the transition from special to regular term should only be a formality.
We can expect a large Democratic field in the special election since current office holders will not have to risk their positions to run. The 7th CD houses parts of seven legislative districts, but only three share more than 20 percent of the constituency. It is likely we will see more than one candidate coming from the Baltimore City Council and potentially from the Baltimore and Howard County Commissions, along with possible ex-Baltimore mayors. The current mayor, Bernard Young, took office in May, so it is unlikely that he would run for Congress at this time.
Cummings was first elected in an April 16, 1996 special election to replace then-Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D), who resigned from Congress to head the NAACP. Prior to winning the congressional special, Cummings served in the Maryland House of Representatives for 13 years.
Congressman Cummings was 42nd in House seniority, and chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), next in committee seniority, was quickly named as interim chair. The MD-7 vacancy joins NY-27 (Chris Collins) and WI-7 (Sean Duffy) as open seats going to special election to fill unexpired terms. There are now 26 open seats in the special or regular election cycles, with 19 from the Republican column and seven from the Democratic side.