The race for senate seats in Maryland and Virginia is heating up – even though the midterm elections are a little over a year away.
When Maryland’s longest serving senator Paul Sarbanes (D) announced he was retiring in March, he left the state with its first open Senate race since 1986.
The Democratic bill is packed with numerous contenders: former NAACP president and Congress member Kweisi Mfume, forensic psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren, whose sister is FOX News anchor Greta Van Susteren, American University history professor Allan J. Lichtman, Montgomery County businessman Joshua Rales (who recently defected from the Republican Party), Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, Rep. Benjamin Cardin, and Baltimore activist A. Robert Kaufmann.
With campaigns becoming increasingly expensive, politicians have started bidding for positions earlier. Just three days after Sarbanes announced he would not seek a sixth term, Mfume, threw his hat in the ring. Five weeks later, Cardin followed suit. The other candidates announced their intentions last month.
“We’re talking about a campaign that will take us through two Labor Days before people even get to vote,” said Dan Rupli in a Sept. 1 Washington Post article. Rupli, a lawyer, is Mfume’s political advisor.
So far, Cardin, who has represented Maryland’s Third District for 18 years, has raised $1.1 million for his campaign, according to the Post, far more than his fellow candidates. Mfume has only raised $134,000, although he has the most recognizable name among the other contenders. He also has a better chance of capturing the black vote, since African Americans make up 30 percent of Maryland’s Democratic electorate.
Two of the campaign’s more prominent contenders, Mfume and Cardin, have begun to reveal their agendas. Mfume has pledged to improve the conditions of public schools and remedy health care disparities among different groups.
On the website, cardin.house.gov, Cardin emphasizes improving Medicare and Medicaid, preventing the privatization of Social Security, giving families tax credits for education, and protecting the environment.
Michael Frazier, a political science professor at Howard University, thinks Mfume has the best chance of winning in Maryland thanks to Mfume’s “sterling set of credentials,” given his experience in Congress and heading the NAACP. Frazier is also quick to point out that it’s anyone’s game this early in the election season.
As for the Republicans, current Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the party’s top elected black official, has formed an exploratory committee, a necessary step toward declaring one’s candidacy. Other Republicans considering running include Daniel Muffoletto and Corrogan R. Vaughn, of Ellicott City and Baltimore County respectively. However, they will step down should Steele agree to run.
Steele, a Catholic, is opposed to the death penalty and abortion. Generally, he is more conservative on social issues than the more moderate Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
Frazier thinks an “interesting contest” would arise between Mfume and Steele should Steele enter the race. “It’s the first time two viable, potential candidates who are African American” are running for the same office yet representing different parties.
In Virginia, no one has decided to challenge incumbent Sen. George Allen (R) so far. Democrat Gov. Mark Warner took himself out of the race, amid speculation that he is exploring a bid for the White House in 2008. However, Warner recently pledged to find someone to run against Allen, who has been in office since 2001.