The Musical Chairs Begin

Maryland Senate

Rep. Donna Edwards’ (D-MD-4) announcement that she will run for the Senate launches the Maryland political chess game. As we already know, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) is officially in the race and moving quickly toward establishing himself. Van Hollen jump-started the political time line with his formal declaration at the end of last week, and now Edwards is quickly following suit.

Seeing two DC area Maryland politicians – Edwards in Prince Georges County and Van Hollen hailing from Montgomery County – in the open Senate race, we can soon expect a move from the Baltimore contingent. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake personally re-confirmed that she is “seriously considering” running for the Senate. Edwards’ presence also forces Baltimore Rep. Elijah Cummings’ (D-MD-7) hand, now that it is clear he will not be the only African American House member to potentially join the statewide effort. Part of Edwards’ goal in so definitively announcing is an attempt to encapsulate Cummings, making it clear that his path to the Senate will not be an easy one.

She also gives Prince Georges County Executive Rushern Baker something more to consider as he assesses his own statewide prospects. Edwards clearly cuts into Baker’s PG County vote base, making his narrow path to victory much tighter. The county executive would need a strong Prince Georges vote to offset his lack of name ID and voter familiarity in the rest of the state. In a crowded field with him as the only southwestern Maryland candidate, the set-up could play well to Baker’s advantage. With Edwards aggressively jumping into the race, it now ends whatever edge he might have in that regard, and may keep him from running altogether.

But the Edwards move also impinges upon Baltimore Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD-3) and Baltimore County Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD-2), but in different ways. With the two DC area candidates in the field, Sarbanes’ chances would be greatly boosted, particularly if Rawlings-Blake and Cummings do not run. Rep. Sarbanes, whose father Paul Sarbanes served in the Senate for 30 years, still has residual statewide name identification and a strong Baltimore political base. Splitting the Prince Georges/Montgomery County vote between Van Hollen and Edwards could be a major plus for Sarbanes.

Ruppersberger is in a different situation. Since he is not as liberal as his potential opponents, the Baltimore County congressman’s path to victory is helped if a large number of Democratic candidates enter the Senate race. Concentrating on votes from his district and those from more conservative eastern and southern Maryland could give him enough of a margin to top a sizeable field with no dominant opponent. Therefore, it would likely be to Ruppersberger’s benefit to see all of the aforementioned run. It’s a further boon if Montgomery County Rep. John Delaney (D-MD-6) would get in, but the entrance of both Van Hollen and Edwards certainly makes his (Delaney’s) path to the Senate nomination far more difficult to traverse, so it’s likely that the sophomore House member will back away.

Edwards’ move also directly affects former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who went down to an ignominious defeat in the governor’s race last year. Apparently, Brown is indicating that he will defer to Edwards now that she has announced for the Senate, but may well be first in line to seek her open House seat.

Since he fared so poorly against a Republican in a heavily Democratic state, and particularly so in Baltimore, Brown’s chances of winning a nomination against a group of prominent Democrats are poor at best. But, in an open House race from a district where he performed much better, Brown may find such a campaign much more to his liking, and is clearly his smarter political play.

The Maryland Senate twists and turns have only begun. Stay tuned for much more political action.

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