Next Year's Election for Mikulski's Seat Is a Potential 'Land Rush'

By Anjali Shastry and Grace Toohey

ANNAPOLIS—As Maryland’s senior Senator Barbara Mikulski prepares to finish up her last term in the U.S. Senate, politicians across the state are gearing up to run for her seat in what has been called a political “land rush.”

Sitting Maryland representatives in the U.S. Congress would have to give up their seats to run to replace Mikulski, a Democrat, who announced Monday she would not run in 2016 after 38 years in Congress.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, is “very likely to run,” an aide said. Both Reps. John Delaney, D-Potomac, and Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, have confirmed they are planning on exploring a campaign, while Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, and Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, both said they were giving the run “serious consideration.”

Van Hollen, with nearly $1.7 million, and Ruppersberger, with nearly $1.1 million, at the end of 2014 had the largest campaign accounts among the Maryland delegation to the House of Representatives.

As Congressional seats become vacant, they tend to be filled from the ranks of the General Assembly. Those seats would, in turn, need to be filled.

“This is going to affect the entire political food chain in Maryland,” political commentator Blair Lee IV said. “Every 20 or 30 years, it’s like musical chairs—some are sitting down and some are standing up when the music stops playing.”

“There’s going to be a lot of new faces and new jobs,” Lee said. “2016 in Maryland is going to be historic, not a boring election year.”

Lee said if he had to put money on a candidate, he would put it on Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington.

For the last 30 years, both U.S. senators have come from Baltimore, which, Lee said, has created a power shift that will favor candidates beyond that area.

He also emphasized gender and race as important factors, saying that Edwards, as an African-American woman, checks off a lot of boxes that make her a potentially winning candidate.

“How long can you tell African-Americans it’s not their turn yet?” Lee said.

Edwards’s office on Tuesday declined comment on whether she would run for the Senate seat.

But for Barry Rascovar, a political commentator who worked at the Baltimore Sun for more than 20 years, it will be the incumbents and recognizable names who will have the best shot at filling Mikulski’s big shoes.

“I think those are the ones that are going to be polling the best,” Rascovar said. “There will be other names in the race, but I don’t think they’ll be the favorites.”

Many Maryland congressional members may be considering running at this moment, but once one of them announces they’re officially running, the others will probably back off, Rascovar said.

Rascovar’s initial favorite for the position was former Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, who announced Tuesday morning that he would not seek Mikulski’s spot in the Senate. O’Malley is exploring a run for U.S. President.

With O’Malley out, Rascovar named Van Hollen as the favorite to run.

Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, and Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville. did not comment on their plans.

Mileah Kromer, a professor of political science at Goucher College, said this senatorial race could show just how Democratic Maryland is—a state that boasts a two-to-one Democratic majority over Republicans—despite the recent win by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

“It’ll be interesting to see if Hogan does a good job and wins public approval, if that can help carry a Republican into the Senate,” Kromer said.

But since 2016 will be a presidential year, Lee said, he expects Marylanders to vote as a strong blue state, since presidential elections tend to turn out the African-American communities and the youth vote, which are both largely Democratic.

Rascovar said that the “land rush” is an unlikely possibility.

“These people have worked hard to win their congressional seats, and they’re not going to give it up lightly,” he said. “It’s probably a long shot that we’re going to have a stampede of congressional incumbents giving up their seats to get a shot at the Senate.”

But deciding to run for Senate is more complicated than a single-focused “land rush,” Kromer said, because these politicians’ radars span beyond one office.

“It’s not just a Senate race, but also a governor’s race,” Kromer said. “So it’s a land rush not all at once, but over the next four years.”

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