Maryland state Sen. C. Anthony Muse announced Thursday he will challenge U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin in the state Democratic primaries, giving the incumbent perhaps his most formidable opposition of this year’s election cycle.
Mr. Muse, of Prince George’s County, kicked off his senatorial campaign by vowing to answer the call of residents begging for real-world solutions and an end to gridlock on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Muse, who is black, has also said he hopes to bring diversity to Capitol Hill and to be a better voice for the concerns of underserved voters. He will likely face steep odds against Mr. Cardin, a prolific fundraiser who has spent more than 40 years as a federal and state lawmaker.
“I love this country, but I believe we’re headed in the wrong direction,” Mr. Muse said. “I’m not going to beat Ben Cardin. The people are going to elect me.”
Mr. Muse, a 53-year-old pastor at a church in Upper Marlboro, has served in the state Senate since 2007. He made waves during last year’s General Assembly by opposing same-sex marriage, based largely on his religious beliefs.
He was also one of a handful of Democrats in recent months to criticize the state’s congressional and legislative redistricting processes as being overly partisan and discriminatory toward black voters.
Mr. Muse was the lone Democratic state senator to vote against Maryland’s new congressional map, which he argued was crafted by Democratic leaders to dilute minority influence and help the party gain a seventh congressional seat.
His campaign will likely depend largely on his ability to court black voters, particularly in Prince George’s County and Baltimore, where he was born.
He hopes to build on the successes of Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman who rode backing from black voters to nearly defeat Mr. Cardin in the 2006 primary.
Mr. Mfume, a former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, lost to Mr. Cardin by just 3 percentage points. Mr. Cardin, who was running to replace retired Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, then cruised to a 10-point victory over Republican Michael S. Steele in the general election.
Mr. Cardin figures to be a heavier favorite in this year’s race, considering Mr. Muse appears to lack the same profile as Mr. Mfume and none of the other six candidates have served in elected office.
Mr. Muse is the fourth Democrat to declare in the race, joining Mr. Cardin and relative unknowns Raymond L. Blagmon and Christopher J. Garner.
Four Republicans are also vying for the seat: Daniel J. Bongino, William T. Capps Jr., Richard J. Douglas and Corrogan R. Vaughn.
Despite widespread dissatisfaction with national lawmakers, observers say it will be difficult to beat Mr. Cardin, who entered the Senate in 2007 after serving 20 years each in Congress and the Maryland House.
A poll released in October by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies found 32 percent of Maryland voters — and 51 percent of Democrats — said they will “definitely” vote for Mr. Cardin in this year’s general election.
Even 36 percent of GOP voters said they would at least consider re-electing him.
Jennifer E. Duffy, an analyst for the Cook Political Report, said Mr. Cardin enjoys relatively strong approval and will have a heavy edge in money and name recognition.
She added that Mr. Muse could have difficulty raising funds and paying for expensive ad campaigns without help from prominent Democrats, most of whom will likely back Mr. Cardin.
“I think he’s in a position to raise some issues and concerns for African Americans,” Ms. Cook said, “but I don’t know if he makes it a really competitive race.”