- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2015

The Democratic primary for Maryland’s open U.S. Senate seat is shaping up as one of the most heated in the country, with two heavyweight members of Congress battling for the slot and a third potentially waiting in the wings.

Reps. Chris Van Hollen, who represents Montgomery County, and Donna F. Edwards, whose district covers Prince George’s County, have been tilting toward the ideological left.

But all eyes are on 10-term Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, waiting to see whether he will join the race.

“What would happen is the earth would move,” said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. “Elijah Cummings would be the only major candidate for Barbara Mikulski’s seat who comes from the Baltimore area, and I think it very likely that he would pick up a lot of support, both African-American and white.”

Some Democrats from Baltimore have held back their endorsements presumably to see whether Mr. Cummings, 64, will enter the contest.

He has shown no such indication, and a political spokesman for Mr. Cummings did not respond to several requests for comment.

Fundraising for his congressional account does not reveal any hidden interest. Mr. Cummings raised $148,065 from April 1 through June 30.

Ms. Edwards has raised $582,766, and Mr. Van Hollen raised $1,445,182 for their senatorial bids.

Mr Van Hollen’s campaign has said about 75 percent of the money he raised is from Maryland, which contrasts with Ms. Edwards, who has reached outside of the state for the bulk of her money and endorsements.

PoliticalMaryland commentator Barry Rascovar said he doubted Mr. Cummings would be able to catch up to Mr. Van Hollen.

“He’s extremely popular in that district of Baltimore city and parts of Baltimore County, but he’s never run an election in the other counties surrounding Baltimore,” Mr. Rascovar said of Mr. Cummings. “He’s never run an election in suburban Washington counties, so he’s starting out not well-known beyond his congressional district. He’s got to overcome that.”

The Democrats are competing for the Senate seat being vacated by Ms. Mikulski, a five-term senator who is retiring at the end of next year.

Maryland has a history of promoting House representatives to the Senate, particularly those such as Ms. Mikulski who represent Baltimore. For years, Sen. Ben Cardin represented Baltimore in the House with Mr. Cummings.

But five months after Ms. Mikulski’s announcement of her retirement, only two representatives have declared that they are running, and neither is from Baltimore.

Mr. Van Hollen received the first and only major Baltimore endorsement of the campaign from state Delegate Maggie McIntosh, chair of the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee and a longtime friend of Ms. Mikulski’s. He also has been endorsed by the Baltimore-based Maryland branch of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, the Montgomery County Council and retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Ms. Edwards is backed by the feminist advocacy group and super PAC Emily’s List and the Washington area Teamsters union. Carol Moseley Braun, an Illinois Democrat who was the first and only African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, also has endorsed her. Seven members of the Prince George’s County Council have endorsed her, but County Executive Rushern Baker III has backed Mr. Van Hollen.

Todd Eberly, a political commentator and associate professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said that if Mr. Cummings decides to run tomorrow, he probably could catch up to Mr. Van Hollen and Ms. Edwards.

“Cummings would be able to start raising money very rapidly. He can afford to wait,” Mr. Eberly said. “He’s got name recognition and a strong network of support. If he woke up one morning and walked out the door and said he was running, the money would start coming in.”

Mr. Cummings is a popular Democratic leader, less polarizing than Ms. Edwards and more established than Mr. Van Hollen, Mr. Eberly said.

Johns Hopkins’ Mr. Crenson said Mr. Cummings “might pose a challenge to Van Hollen in the Washington suburbs. Even though Donna Edwards has a lock on the vote in Prince George’s, I think Cummings is widely respected and has great recognition. The only drawback is that he has a safe seat, which he would have to give up.”

Still, the demographics may be trending away from him.

The black vote, which used to be strongest in Baltimore, has shifted to Prince George’s County. Mr. Rascovar said a Cummings candidacy would split the black vote between him and Ms. Edwards.

“An awful lot of people would like to see a Baltimore-area candidate, but for Cummings, he’s got to give up an awful lot. He’s one of the primary African-American voices on Capitol Hill. Do you risk losing that on a run for the Senate?” Mr. Rascovar said. “He would become a back-bench U.S. senator, and that in a way may not be worth it to him.”

The sole Republican running for Ms. Mikulski’s seat is Chrys Kefalas, who worked as a lawyer in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s Jr.’s administration. He has raised $80,569 to date.

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