Senator Ben Cardin is one of Maryland’s most popular political figures. But by the time his current term ends in 2019, he’ll have been in office continually for 52 years, since being elected to the House of Delegates in 1966. If he runs again, he’ll be 81 by the time his next term is up.
So I’m not rooting for Cardin not to run, just engaging in speculation based on the whispers that I hear from oh, pretty much everyone.
So. Let’s assume Cardin doesn’t run for reelection in 2018. Who will take a stab at the race for his seat?
Start with three congresscritters, one about to exit from office. John Sarbanes sat out 2016 despite being considered a likely contender. He won’t pass on a second chance so soon, especially for the seat his father occupied for 30 years. Elijah Cummings, the man who inspired so much speculation this year while he pondered his options right up to the filing deadline in February, will almost assuredly take another look. So will Donna Edwards, looking to bounce back from a tough loss this year, although I’ve heard other rumors about her intentions as well.
All will be formidable, top tier candidates who will run strong races. Who else might run here?
As I noted yesterday, John Delaney is more likely to run for governor but can’t be ruled out of this race. While I suspect that she won’t jump into another race for governor, Heather Mizeur has the chops and statewide experience to mount a strong campaign in this race. The two newest congressmen in waiting, Anthony Brown and Jamie Raskin, surely covet a potential Senate seat and will be mentioned, but it’s most likely too soon for either new guy to move up just yet. Tom Perez will be mentioned here, as he was in 2016 and will be for governor, as I noted yesterday. Martin O’Malley will also be mentioned, but he passed in 206 and I suspect he’s going to be busy with a new job of some kind in DC.
My quick and dirty two years out analysis goes like this: Sarbanes will run. Cummings will ponder, as is his wont, again. Edwards will most likely run. If Cummings ponders too long, someone like Mizeur or another progressive will get in. I think there’s room for more than two candidates to chart a potential path to victory, so I expect to see a larger group of “in” candidates, at least initially. Chris Van Hollen was the kind of candidate that made everyone else – except Donna Edwards – pause before getting into a fight with him. I’m not sure there’s anyone in the potential 2018 field who commands that kind of respect.
A field of Sarbanes, Cummings, Edwards, and Mizeur would be fascinating. Two men, two women. Two white candidates, two black. One LGBT candidate. Two Baltimore area candidates, two from DC (Mizeur now lives on the Eastern Shore, but her base of support remains in Montgomery County). Two candidates giving up House seats, two with little or nothing to lose.
Questions: Cummings has deep roots in Baltimore and long reach elsewhere, as we learned this year. Is he ready for a free for all gunfight like this race will surely be? He can’t dither around for a year like he did this year and assume that he can win just by getting in. Is he prepared to raise and spend money like he’s never had to do before?
Sarbanes won his House seat in a multi-candidate shootout in 2002, so we know that doesn’t faze him. Does he have his father’s statewide reach, or has that network faded or pledged its allegiance elsewhere? Can a self-professed small dollar campaign finance advocate compete and raise the money he’ll surely need to win a Senate primary?
Edwards’ questions are mainly about 2016. Can she do a better fundraising job next time? Can she learn the hard lessons about what worked and what didn’t work in her contest with Chris Van Hollen? Can she move past the understandable bitterness of a tough loss so quickly and gear it up again?
Mizeur ran a great race and inspired intense devotion on the left in 2014. She’s well-positioned to pick that legacy up, fuse it to the Sanders case on economic inequality, and be a formidable contender. Can she raise money? There’s no public financing in a Senate primary. Can she broaden her appeal from the activist progressive base of the Democratic in crowd to more casual – and moderate – voters?
None of this matters if Ben Cardin decides to run again. It’s unlikely that anyone – certainly not the four candidates above – would even consider running against Cardin, although there was a lot of grumbling (and louder noises too) about Cardin’s vote against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. But with all due respect to Senator Cardin, an all star primary lineup like this one would be something special. Makes my blogger heart go all pitter-patter. Not to mention the two open House seats that a race like this would conceivably open up. It’d be a veritable Maryland Scramble Part Deux, this time with a gubernatorial election thrown in as a bonus. And three (three!) open House seats, in CD3, CD6, and CD7. All of which I’ll be talking about in future posts this week, along with some other key races we need to mention.
Be still my heart. Almost more than I dare to dream about. But it’s a really fun dream, I have to say.