Newspaper article Roll Call

Democrats' Maryland Senate Circus

Newspaper article Roll Call

Democrats' Maryland Senate Circus

Article excerpt

CHESAPEAKE BEACH, Md. -- When Barbara A. Mikulski announced her retirement last month, she instructed fellow Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin to brace himself.

"She said it would take about 10 minutes before things would get really interesting in Maryland," Cardin recounted at a March 12 event on the Chesapeake Bay. "It took about 30 seconds until things got very interesting."

In the 17 days since the Democratic senator announced she would not seek another term, two House members have already launched bids for her seat and only one Democrat in the delegation has indicated he has no interest in the race.

That made the dinner hosted by the Calvert County Democrats last week in Chesapeake Beach an intriguing affair. Among the 200 people to file through the buffet line at the Rod 'N' Reel Restaurant were labor leaders, a former governor, the longtime state Senate president and several potential candidates for Mikulski's seat.

The event provided an early glimpse of what the Senate primary will look like -- the delicate balance of attacking opponents who double as colleagues and friends, and the careful dance of those few Democrats who will choose to stay on the sidelines.

Reps. Donna Edwards, who announced her candidacy last week, and John Delaney, who is considering a bid, sat together at the head table and chatted through the evening. Seated 10 feet away, on the other side of the lectern, was former state Del. Heather Mizeur, the progressive favorite in the gubernatorial primary last year and a potential Senate candidate. The keynote speaker was Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, who had not squelched talk of his potential candidacy until an interview with CQ Roll Call that night.

Not present was Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who announced his Senate campaign a week earlier, and Reps. John Sarbanes, Elijah E. Cummings and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who all have said they are looking at the race.

Because the dinner was in his district, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, the sole Democrat who has ruled out a Senate campaign, was seated in the position of honor directly next to the lectern.

"I'm concerned about losing so many of them, particularly if a lot of them run against each other and we lose their service to the Congress," Hoyer told CQ Roll Call just before departing. "That would be a loss for the state. But we'll see what happens."

Edwards' remarks had all the makings of a campaign stump speech. The congresswoman, who represents a neighboring district, was not originally on the program of speakers and her attendance seemed tied to her two-day-old Senate campaign.

"We have a wonderful delegation, and we're gonna do a little rough and tumble over the election season," Edwards said in her speech. "And that's OK, because we know at the end of the day, when we come back as Democrats we come back on the same team because we share values. …

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