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Maryland Has Two Awesome Democrats Running For Senate. Can We Have Both?
We hear some Republicans are running, too
This week, our Senate preview will be a little different from the usual format: We're off to Maryland, where the two parties' candidates haven't yet been chosen. Barbara Mikulski, who served in the Senate for five terms, announced last year she would retire, so she could spend less time raising money and more time "raising hell," and we wish her all the best with that hell-raising. Even with Mikulski's retirement, Ballotpedia rates Maryland's senate race "safely Democratic," so chances are the real election to replace Mikulski will be the April 26 primary. There are 10 Democrats running, and 14 (!) Republicans, but the two actually serious for-reals Democratic candidates to replace the longest-serving woman in Congress are quite familiar with Capitol Hill, since they already serve in the House: Rep. Donna Edwards and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who are running an intense but relatively civil race for the nomination and the chance to go up in November against whatever pile of yard scrapings the Republicans choose. They're both capital-P progressives, they agree on just about all the issues, they're virtually tied in the polls, and we frankly would like to have 'em both cloned and sent to run in other states as well, please.
Both Edwards and Van Hollen have also been well-behaved enough that they've almost never made it to the pages of Yr Wonkette, except when briefly quoted opposing some conservative horror. When Edwards won her first term in the House in 2008, she got a brief mention in a filthy-minded piece noting that incumbent Albert Wynn "was beaten by activist Donna Edwards” in the primary, and wondering if he was into that sort of thing. (We also learned that Wynn's estranged wife recorded robo-calls in the 2000 election urging people to vote against him and for his white Republican opponent because "Albert Wynn does not respect black women. He left me for the white woman." Not that it has anything to do with Edwards eight years later, but that's too good a political anecdote to leave out.) Edwards also made a controversial statement in 2010 that Israel shouldn't bomb the shit out of Gaza. Oh, and in 2011, Edwards memorably read the lyricsto the White Stripes song "Effect and Cause" on the House floor, which may haveprevented a government shutdown:
Well, first came an action/ And then a reaction/ But you can’t switch around/ For your own satisfaction/ Well, you put my house down, then got mad/ At my reaction
CSPAN apparently missed the mic drop that followed.
Chris Van Hollen has similarly been a Goody-Goody, with no embarrassing sex scandals, financial irregularities, or even any amusing malapropisms ( that we know of ) since being elected to Congress in 2002. Oh, sure, he was one of several Democrats who, following the Terrible Horrible No-Good Very Bad Midterms of 2014, rolled out an instantly doomed 2015 proposal to tax Wall Street to pay for middle-class tax cuts, but as we noted at the time, the proposal was mostly
like one of those nifty concept cars from the Detroit Auto Show: It looks pretty flashy and some of the features may make it into a production vehicle someday, but you’re not going to be seeing it in your dealer’s showroom anytime soon.
Still, it did a lot to help Van Hollen's reputation as a kind of male Elizabeth Warren with a receding hairline, and the dude is ALWAYS talking to Chris Hayes on MSNBC, so he's got progressive wonk cred out the wazoo. Van Hollen also featured in a video clip on Wonkette, although rather than quoting hipster lyrics (from vinyl), he displayed an impressive mastery of procedural dueling with scabrous toadbag Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) during the October 2013 government shutdown, when Van Hollen called attention to a sleazy House Republicans vote that rigged House rules to prevent Democrats from taking any action to end the shutdown:
It doesn't have much of a beat and you can't dance to it, but Van Hollen's calling out the GOP's One Simple Trick to suspend democracy got over 1.6 million views at the time, and almost that many since. It's nice to think that Rules Wonkery can go viral.
On the issues, both candidates are liberal, liberal, and liberal, so they've tried to make as much as possible of small differences; Van Hollen stresses his experience and long list of endorsements, while Edwards says that makes him too much a part of the Democratic party establishment. Edwards has tried to make an issue of Van Hollen's participation in a 2010 deficit reduction panel that suggested changes to Social Security such as increasing the retirement age and slowing the rate of cost-of-living increases, but the most positive thing Van Hollen actually said about the proposal was that it could serve as a "framework" for a broader budget agreement -- he never actually supported those specific changes and in fact fought against them:
Van Hollen later pushed back against the Obama administration when the White House continued to push for slower cost of living adjustments; and other Democrats, notably House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have said there is no difference between the two candidates on the issue.
For his part, Van Hollen attempts to suggest that Edwards doesn't play well with others to advance progressive ideas:
"When it comes to bipartisanship, we need to make sure that division in Washington does not allow us to stop making progress for people," Van Hollen said. "Congresswoman Edwards was rated last among all the Democrats in terms of willingness to work with people to get things done."
Van Hollen is referring to a bipartisan index created by the Washington-based Lugar Center, which ranks lawmakers on how well "members of opposite parties work with one another," based on bill sponsorship and co-sponsorship data.
As the Baltimore Sun points out, that might not be an especially powerful argument in a Democratic primary, although it could conceivably be a factor in the general election. Edwards says she gets along just fine with Republicans in the bipartisan women's caucus, and has worked to authorize NASA funding as a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. That alone is impressive, given that most Republicans on the House Science Committee are decidedly anti-science.
While both Van Hollen and Edwards have 100% ratings from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America for their support of abortion rights, Edwards picked up a big endorsementfrom EMILY's List, along with $2.4 million in funding from its super PAC. That created a bit of a stir among women backing Van Hollen, who is no slouch at all when it comes to women's issues; as the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Van Hollen has fought Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and has pushed for paid family leave and for equal pay laws. The Washington Post points out that "Four times as many female elected officials in Maryland are endorsing him as are endorsing Edwards." But hey, EMILY's List is all about supporting Democratic women candidates, so it's not surprising that they'd support Edwards, who could become only the second African-American woman elected to the Senate. The infusion of EMILY's List money has helped Edwards stay competitive with Van Hollen, who has had the far more successful fundraising effort otherwise, outraising Edwards by 10 to 1.
The primary race is extremely close; both Edwards and Van Hollen are highly popular in their own districts, and polling has favored Edwards at some times, Van Hollen at others. A Baltimore Sun / University of Baltimore poll released March 12 had Edwards ahead by six points when all 10 candidates in the Democratic primary were listed; when the question was reframed to list only her and Van Hollen, her lead grew to 10 points. More recently, however, Van Hollen's internal polling shows him with a very slight lead, although not outside of the margin of error. Unless either candidate says something incredibly stupid (or who knows, incredibly inspiring? It could happen!) in the next month, expect this primary to be extremely close; black voter turnout in Baltimore, where Edwards is very popular, could ultimately be a deciding factor.
Oh, yes, there are also some Republicans running in their own primary, and one of them will likely get stomped flat by whoever wins the Democratic primary. The leading Republican of the 14 (seriously?) candidates is Kathy Szeliga, the minority whip in Maryland's House of Delegates, who led the March Baltimore Sun poll with a whopping 6 percent, although over three quarters of Maryland Republicans said they were still undecided. There's also Chrys Kefalas, the vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, a young whelp of just 36 who pissed off Szeliga when he suggested she was some kind of career politician (she's been in office all of five years) and that he thinks Marylanders are "looking for a new voice, a fresh face.” Szeliga is only 54 herself, and shot back, "I started my business when he was five years old, so when he was riding his bike catching bugs I was writing paychecks." Also, Kefalas, who is that rare bird, a gay Republican, says he can't possibly support Donald Trump, while Szeliga states she'll support her party's candidate regardless, adding, "I can tell you one thing: the Republican nominee will be way better than the Democrat nominee." If any of the other seven thousand Republican Senate candidates from Maryland have said or done anything remotely interesting, please let us know.
Yr Wonkette is perfectly happy with either Van Hollen or Edwards, and we're happy to report that as far as we know,* neither has aligned themselves with Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, so maybe our beloved readers could manage not to murder each other in the comments, please? Maybe they could share?
* Update: Thanks to alert readerJackson Graves, who helped us know a little farther: turns out that both Edwards and Van Hollen have endorsed Hillary Clinton. Wonkette regrets the error. But please don't fight it out in the comments, either.
Want to help one or both of these fine people make it to the Senate? Donna Edwards' Act Blue donation page is right here, and Chris Van Hollen's donation page is here. And of course, you can vote with your filthy Ameros for Wonkette at this linky here.