Three high-profile Democrats, including 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean, have endorsed Milad Pooran in the race for the Democratic nomination in Maryland's 6th Congressional District, the campaign announced Tuesday.

The endorsements -- which also came from Rep. Raul Grijalva, of Arizona, and Keith Ellison, of Minnesota -- represented a significant development for a campaign that has so far struggled to receive the same level of attention as two other Democrats in the race, State Sen. Rob Garagiola and Potomac banker John Delaney.

Grijalva and Ellison co-chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Pooran, 35, is a doctor and member of the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps. He was deployed during the first weeks of his campaign, providing medical care to severely wounded soldiers as they were flown back to the United States.  He lives in Jefferson.

Maryland's 6th District is currently held by 10-term incumbent Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican, though its boundaries were redrawn in Annapolis last year to be more competitive. Democrats nationally are eyeing the seat as a potential pickup opportunity that they believe will help them capture control of the House.

"Governor Dean's endorsement reinforces what we have been saying since this race started: Beating Roscoe Bartlett in November will take a better choice than either entrenched Annapolis political power or entrenched Wall Street money power," Pooran said in a statement.

Pooran is still very much an underdog in the race, with Garagiola pulling in major endorsements from labor unions and support from other state Democratic leaders, including Baltimore Rep.Elijah E. Cummings, who is a member of the Progressive Caucus. Delaney, meanwhile, has worked to position himself as a Washington outsider with businesses credentials (not to mention personal money to spend on his campaign).

It’s also worth noting that Maryland’s 6th District is expected to be competitive in November -- not overwhelmingly Democrat -- and swing districts tend to elect centrists in both parties, not those attempting to position themselves as especially conservative or progressive.

But Pooran has been actively campaigning and the endorsements Tuesday were the second indication that he is not willing to cede the race to his better-known opponents. Campaign finance reports covering the last three months of 2011 show Pooran raised just over $68,000 and had $102,437 in the bank. Those numbers put him in third place on the money front,  behind Garagiola, who raised $344,061, and Delaney, who wrote himself a $118,000 check.

“When I was running for president, I would tell people that in politics, the difference between doctors and lawyers is that doctors are fact-based,” Dean, the former governor of Vermont and also a physician, said in a statement. “We solve problems, we don't argue about them.”

The district, Dean said, “has been poorly represented for 20 years, and this year is a real opportunity for Democrats to change that. There is only one true progressive in the Democratic primary, and only one candidate who can win in November: Dr. Milad Pooran.”

The primary is April 3.