Laslo Boyd: How's All That "Serious Consideration" Coming Along?

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By: Laslo Boyd

Barbara Mikulski had scarcely finishing telling the world that she would not run for a sixth term in the US Senate before nearly everyone who has ever been elected to public office in Maryland announced an intention to “seriously consider” running to fill her seat.

Given the history of many Maryland office holders staying around for a long time, an open US Senate seat is truly a rare occurrence.  Moreover, there was immediately a cottage industry of speculation about the ripple effects of prospective candidates for the Senate creating new opportunities for the positions they would vacate. 

The day after Mikulski’s announcement, 8th District Congressman Chris Van Hollen was the first to enter the race for her seat.  He was joined the following week by 4th District Congresswoman Donna Edwards.  That initial flurry seemed to suggest that it would be a crowded field but no one else has jumped in since then. 

The reality is that Van Hollen and Edwards are both stars, both well regarded progressives who have already attracted endorsements and supporters.  Van Hollen starts with a significant lead in campaign cash-on-hand.  He also has a lot of chits to call in from his work as head of the House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  He has risen quickly in the Democratic hierarchy in the House and might have been expected to stay there if he thought that the Party had a reasonable chance to reclaim the majority any time soon.

Edwards has already been endorsed by Emily’s List and is widely acknowledged as one of the leading voices of the more liberal wing of the party.   She will get support as a woman running to succeed Mikulski as well as trying to be the first African American senator from Maryland.  Her initial challenge is to raise the significant amounts of money that will be needed in a state with two major media markets. 

Even if you are already a backer of one of these two candidates, you probably would acknowledge that both have strong records.  That may be why it is unlikely that any of the other current office holders supposedly considering the race will actually get into it.  Putting aside Steny Hoyer who is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to retire, any of the other four incumbent House Democrats would have to give up a relatively safe seat to run.  The cost/benefit analysis will likely result in all of them staying where they are.

A couple of commentators speculated about Martin O’Malley running for the Senate seat even before he took himself out of the race in the first week.  Conducting a long-shot campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination will take every waking moment as it is.  If O’Malley changes his mind, it will be because he has conceded the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton. 

For Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to enter the 2016 Primary, she would have to forego running for re-election as Mayor of Baltimore City.  It’s hard to imagine that happening.   However, if she did, the Mayor would struggle to get known in the Washington suburbs where voter turnout increasingly dominates elections in Maryland.

One other person who has indicated an interest is Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.  Her candidacy seems even less likely than Rawlings-Blake’s.  Townsend last sought office in 2002, ran what was largely regarded as a lackluster campaign and has been out of public view ever since.  Moreover, the Kennedy name no longer carries nearly the same cache that it did then. 

On the Republican side, a list of “usual suspects” was trotted out after the Mikulski announcement, but nothing serious has happened since then.  There will be talk that Larry Hogan’s win last year proves that a Republican could win the Senate race.  That conclusion holds up only if the Democratic candidate runs as bad a race as Anthony Brown did and the Republican runs as good a one as Hogan did.  That’s a bet you probably don’t want to take.

And then there’s the ripple effect.  Two congressional seats will be open, but, if what I’ve argued above is correct, it will only be two. 

In the 8th District, Delegate Kumar Barve and State Senator Jamie Raskin are definitely in.  In the middle of four-year terms in 2016, neither will have to give up their current position to run.   That also explains why there will be additional candidates from the General Assembly by later in the spring.   

The dynamics in the 4th District are a bit more curious.  One announced candidate is Anthony Brown, last seen losing a race for governor that no one believed was losable.  He still has significant debt left from that campaign and you have to wonder how he will be able to persuade donors to give him another chance.  At this point, the other candidate in that race is Glenn Ivey who was State’s Attorney in Prince George’s County from 2003 – 2011.   As with the 8th District race, there will undoubtedly be additional candidates before long. 

Barbara Mikulski’s departure from the national and Maryland political scene is certainly a dramatic change.  At this point, however, the tidal wave from her vacant senate seat has only reached two congressional districts.  That’s not quite the political tsunami that everyone was expecting.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.