- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

In an election season teeming with surprises, Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen won his bid to represent Maryland in the U.S. Senate with predictable ease Tuesday night, besting his Republican challenger, Delegate Kathy Szeliga, in their race to succeed Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat and the longest-serving woman in Congress‘ history.

With only 14 of 1,989 precincts reporting, Mr. Van Hollen had 150,622 votes, or 78 percent, and Mrs. Szeliga had 38,156 votes, or 20 percent, in the statewide contest, in which Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. Green Party candidate Margaret Flowers had 4,213 votes, or 2 percent.

In other congressional contests, former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown was expected to win the 4th District seat held by Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards, who lost her Senate bid to Mr. Van Hollen in April’s Democratic primary. The win would mark a political comeback for Mr. Brown, who had lost his attempt to succeed Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley to Republican Larry Hogan in 2014. The 4th Congressional District includes much of Prince George’s County.

And Democratic state Sen. Jamie Raskin won his race to replace Mr. Van Hollen in the House and represent the 8th Congressional District, which encompasses much of Montgomery County.

Linda Lamone, the state elections administrator, said voter turnout across Maryland was “extraordinary,” adding that she wouldn’t be surprised if overall turnout tops 80 percent. The previous high of 81 percent voter turnout occurred in 1992, Ms. Lamone said.

Mr. Van Hollen, who has served in the lower chamber since 2003 and is a kitchen-Cabinet adviser to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has been commended by Democrats for his stances on restricting access to guns, commitment to environmental cleanup and advocacy for a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage.

“We can talk about how we get there and in what stages, but it is a scandal in this country that you can work full time, 40 hours a week, all year long and be below the federal poverty level for a family of two, and this is a big difference between the candidates,” Mr. Van Hollen said in an Oct. 7 debate.

Mrs. Szeliga, the minority whip in Maryland’s House of Delegates, touted her private sector experience and campaigned on a platform of cutting burdensome regulations that hinder small businesses. The Baltimore County delegate also promised to weed out the bureaucracy in the Department of Veterans Affairs, which she said was a symptom of an ineffective and out-of-touch political class in Washington.

She said her opponent’s support for raising the minimum wage was simply a band-aid to mask an anemic economy.

“I can tell you what people on minimum wage want: They want a career. They don’t want a minimum wage,” Mrs. Szeliga said at the debate. “They’re tired of career politicians taking an issue like this and ginning people up with it, but let’s get jobs and opportunities to people on a minimum wage so that they’re not on a minimum wage, so they get on the career ladder and climb that.”

Although she condemned some of Donald Trump’s more inflammatory remarks about women, Mrs. Szeliga said she would continue to support and vote for the Republican presidential nominee, a move that put her at odds with other Republicans in deep-blue Maryland, including Mr. Hogan, who publicly disavowed the billionaire.

“Absolutely I’ve said over the last year that I would support my party’s nominee, and I’m supporting my party’s nominee,” Mrs. Szeliga said on the campaign trail.

Mr. Van Hollen’s election was never much in doubt, with polls leading up to the race showing him ahead by as many as 30 points. His true test came in a bruising primary with fellow Rep. Donna Edwards, a race that awkwardly pit Capitol Hill Democrats against each other on the lines of race, gender and class.

“To hell with the aspirations of centuries of people in Maryland, a place where Harriet Tubman came from,” Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, an Edwards backer and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said during the primary. “To hell with that. I mean, he looks like a senator.”

While Ms. Edwards and her supporters sought to replace one barrier-shattering senator with another by electing just the second black female lawmaker to the upper chamber, the moral arc of history proved no match for Mr. Van Hollen’s political connections in Congress and the White House, who shielded the congressman from attacks questioning his progressive bona fides.

Shades of the establishment-versus-outsider theme that animated the Democratic presidential primary between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders were evident in the Maryland Senate primary. As in that race, the insider eventually prevailed.

Mr. Van Hollen’s campaign also was bolstered by myriad endorsements from major newspapers, the state teachers union and local officeholders. The Baltimore Sun said Mr. Van Hollen has the requisite experience, expertise and values to replace Miss Mikulski in the chamber where she presided for three decades.

“He may be a little bit taller and a little bit less Bawlmer than the Maryland political icon he’s seeking to replace, but we have confidence that Barbara Mikulski’s legacy will be well served in Chris Van Hollen’s hands,” the newspaper said in its endorsement.

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