MARCH 4, 2015 — Monday’s announcement from America’s longest-serving female member of Congress, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), will certainly change the Maryland political landscape.
Mikulski’s plans not to seek a sixth senatorial term, after serving 10 years in the House prior to her first statewide victory, will bring an end to what will be her 40-year congressional career when the 114th Congress adjourns. Her decision creates the second open Senate seat in the 2016 election cycle, coming after California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) made a similar announcement in January.
Since then, we have seen a great deal of movement among Golden State Democrats with much more to come. Expect a similar pattern to develop in Maryland. Democrats hold seven of the state’s eight congressional seats and, with the exception of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD-5), each may be assessing their chances of succeeding Mikulski. With many current and former statewide Democratic officials also looking at the race, we can expect a crowded party primary field.
One name that has already surfaced is that of former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). Looking hard at launching a long-shot campaign for president, O’Malley may very well change his focus and return to a Maryland statewide race. Should he enter, O’Malley may not scare away many opponents. His final term ended with poor approval ratings and many people believing that former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s (D) loss to now-Gov. Larry Hogan (R) may have been more a rejection of an O’Malley third term than a personal loss for his Democratic successor. Republicans might also take the open race more seriously if O’Malley were the Democratic candidate.
Among those in the congressional delegation, expect representatives Donna Edwards (D-MD-4) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) to immediately give a Senate campaign serious consideration.
Edwards could be a very strong candidate in the Democratic primary, particularly if she is the only African American running. Maryland has the fourth largest African American percentage of population among the 50 states, and they almost unanimously vote Democratic. A large turnout among blacks in a crowded Democratic field could make Edwards a very strong force.
Rep. Van Hollen is notoriously ambitious. Always trying to move up in the House Democratic leadership, it would be surprising to see him pass up this open seat race.
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD-3), coming from the heart of Baltimore, could also be a major factor should he decide to run. His father, Paul Sarbanes, served in the Senate for 30 years and chose not to seek re-election in 2006, so the family name is well known to Democratic primary voters.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD-2) had toyed with the idea of running for governor, so he is another potential Senate candidate. His road in a Democratic primary might be more difficult because he is slightly to the right of the average party primary voter, particularly on national security and foreign affairs issues. He could easily get lost in a crowded Democratic shuffle.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD-7) is a veteran House member and also has an African American political base. His is from Baltimore, while Edwards hails from Prince Georges County. It is likely representatives Cummings and Edwards would not oppose each other, understanding that splitting their base would more than likely lead to both losing. Cummings is senior to Edwards and would begin with a much larger campaign war chest than the latter, so it’s possible the Congresswoman may yield to him.
Finally, two-term Rep. John Delaney (D-MD-6), who just barely survived a surprisingly tough re-election in 2014, would presumably yield to his more senior colleagues. Independently wealthy, Delaney would have the money to run a serious campaign, but a decision to do so would not be his best political move.
Though the eventual Republican nominee will be a severe underdog, particularly in a presidential election year, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich and Rep. Andy Harris’ (R-MD-1) are coming to the forefront as possible contenders.
The Mikulski retirement will cause a vacuum in Maryland Democratic politics and provides an opportunity for someone to fill a major void. Today, the jockeying for enhanced political position begins.