- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Donna Edwards battled aggressively Friday in their first debate in Maryland’s Democratic primary for Senate in a tight race to fill a rarely open seat now held by retiring Sen Barbara Mikulski.

The one-hour radio debate was a nearly nonstop outpouring of criticism from one candidate against the other. Both candidates represent heavily Democratic areas just outside the nation’s capital, but political similarities they share were invisible during the contentious debate.

Edwards pressed attacks against Van Hollen for being an insider - aloof from middle class concerns - while Van Hollen countered that Edwards was misleading voters with deceptive campaigning. Edwards, a single mother who has campaigned as an outsider, said Van Hollen was willing to consider cuts to Medicare and Social Security to forge a budget agreement and supported trade deals that sent jobs overseas.

“I think it’s time that Maryland’s middle class families deserve someone who’s a voice just like Senator Mikulski fighting for the middle class and unwilling to compromise when it comes to our principals,” Edwards said.

Van Hollen, who repeatedly said Edwards was being deceptive in her campaigning, countered that it was Edwards who presented a risk to Social Security, saying she joined tea party conservatives in allowing the federal government to default on debt.

“Marylanders deserve the truth, so I’m glad we’re having this conversation, because Ms. Edwards has not been telling Maryland voters the truth,” Van Hollen said, adding that he has been leading the fight against cuts to Social Security.

Van Hollen said he has support from progressives who want change.

“The difference in this race is between progressives who are focused on getting things done - and those are Maryland progressives and Maryland progressive groups - versus some of the Hollywood progressives, who have been chiming up for Ms. Edwards,” Van Hollen said.

Edwards said the primary was about reaching out to working people and those who don’t have much of a voice in the Senate.

“Look, there are 100 senators. There are 20 women. There is one woman of color. It is about time that we had a unique perspective in the United States Senate,” Edwards said.

Van Hollen highlighted endorsements he has received, including one from Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker in Edwards’ district. He said elected officials are supporting his campaign, because they know he has a proven record of accomplishment.

“I’ve been able to work across party lines and also take on the fights to get real stuff done,” Van Hollen said, noting his efforts on health care reform, economic recovery efforts and Wall Street reform legislation.

But Edwards said she wasn’t surprised to see the political establishment supporting an insider.

“You know, Mr. Van Hollen likes to trade on those endorsements, and the fact of the matter is we’d have a Democrat in Annapolis right now, if endorsements mattered,” Edwards said in a reference to former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat who was widely supported by Maryland officials but lost the 2014 election to Republican Larry Hogan in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1.

“What matters is the endorsement of people, people that I have worked for and have served both inside and outside of the House of Representatives and on the leadership team in the House of Representatives as well,” Edwards said.

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