Barbara Mikulskis retirement starts Maryland scramble – Politico

Posted: Monday, March 02, 2015

BALTIMORE — Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski said Monday that she won’t seek reelection in 2016, opening up a seat long coveted by Free State Democrats looking to advance.

The race to replace the 78-year-old Mikulski — the longest-serving woman in congressional history — could pit Democratic powerhouses against each other. Potential candidates include a former governor, six of the seven Democratic members of the House delegation, an Obama Cabinet secretary and the mayor of the state’s largest city.

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At a press conference in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood, Mikulski, who was first elected to the Senate in 1986 after five terms in the House, choked up while she described her decision to spend the next two years working for Marylanders and off the campaign trail.

“I have thought long and hard about the next two years, and I had to ask myself this question: Who am I campaigning for? Am I campaigning for me? Or am I campaigning for my constituents?” she said. “I had to decide how to spend my time: fighting for my job, or fighting for their job. Do I spend my time raising money, or do I spend my time raising hell? Do I focus on my election, or do I focus on the next generation?”

Her retirement will create an open seat in a state where President Barack Obama won 62 percent of the vote in 2012. A spokeswoman for former Gov. Martin O’Malley, declined to speculate whether O’Malley would eschew a possible presidential bid and run for the Senate instead.

“Today is a day to reflect on Sen. Mikulski’s service to the people of Maryland, not engage in political speculation,” said O’Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith.

The list of possible candidates on the Democratic side after O’Malley is long. Former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who lost his bid to succeed O’Malley last year, is “seriously considering” a bid, according to a Democratic aide in Maryland.

Democrats control seven of the state’s eight House seats: Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger, Elijah Cummings, John Sarbanes, Donna Edwards, John Delaney and Chris Van Hollen could risk their seats and run statewide.

Van Hollen is seen as a likely contender. The former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been highly vocal about his ambition to move up in House leadership or run statewide — and after backing away from a crowded primary in 2006 to let now-Sen. Ben Cardin run for an open seat, he’ll be well-positioned to argue that it’s his turn.

A spokesperson in his office would not comment on his plans, but people close to Van Hollen expect him to take a serious look at the seat.

His fundraising prowess could help Van Hollen pull ahead if multiple Democrats jump into the race. He already has an expansive network from his days running the House Democrats’ campaign arm.

Both Edwards and Cummings could tap into the African-American voting block. Cummings has emerged as a national figure in recent years as he went toe-to-toe with Republicans as the top Democrat on the Oversight and Benghazi committees in the House. But Cummings has never been an aggressive fundraiser, which could discourage him from entering a race that could cost more than $20 million.

Edwards, an ambitious fourth-term congresswoman, could also spur major black turnout in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. Outside of the Beltway and her district, Edwards has a lower profile, even as after serving as the DCCC’s recruitment committee chairwoman last cycle — and her fundraising has lagged behind other likely candidates.

Delaney, narrowly elected to a second term in 2014, was the first to say publicly he’s considering the race, posting on Twitter that he “will explore a race for Senate.” The former entrepreneur founded two New York Stock Exchange-listed companies before running for Congress, which gave him the ability to self-fund his last two races.

In addition to House members looking to move up, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is on Democrats’ radar. A Rawlings-Blake spokesman said Monday the mayor is “fully focused on serving the citizens of Baltimore and thanks Sen. Mikulski for her decades of tireless service.”

And the two Democrats Brown beat in the gubernatorial primary, former Attorney General Doug Gansler and former Del. Heather Mizeur, might also consider a run. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, a former president of the Montgomery County Council, is another possibility.

Some of these Democrats could also be tempted to challenge first-term GOP Gov. Larry Hogan in 2018.

Asked Monday if she has a successor in mind, Mikulski demurred.

“Maryland has a lot of talent, and they’ll be telling you about it within the next 10 minutes,” she said to laughter among reporters gathered at the Inn at Henderson’s Wharf. “I’ll leave them to get it out there. I, of course, will be supporting the Democratic nominee.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, vowed to work to elect a new senator “who will fight for Maryland every day and make Barbara Mikulski proud.”

On the GOP side, former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, his party’s nominee in the last open-seat Senate race in 2006 against Ben Cardin, deflected Twitter inquiries about whether he’d consider a run. Daniel Bongino, the GOP’s 2012 nominee for Senate against Cardin, said he in a statement on his Facebook page that he was mulling a bid.

Republicans — who haven’t won a Senate contest since Mikulski’s predecessor, Charles “Mac” Mathias, was reelected in 1980 — vowed to contest the race and promised a “top recruit” to face the eventual Democratic nominee.

“After winning the Governor’s race in 2014, there’s no question that an open Senate seat in Maryland instantly becomes a top pickup opportunity for Republicans,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said. “While Democrats get ready for a bloody primary, we will have a top recruit waiting for whoever emerges.”

Cardin, who was here at Mikulski’s press conference, called his colleague’s retirement “bittersweet.” But he said the state’s “great talent pool” of Democrats would be ready to succeed her.

“We are very excited about the prospects of those who are interested in this race,” he said.

Cardin declined to predict who might run or whether he expects a crowded, contentious primary. He said Mikulski only informed him of her decision Sunday and that “most of us did not anticipate this announcement.”

Lauren French reported from Washington. Burgess Everett, Katie Glueck and Kevin Robillard contributed to this report.


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