Four new television ads began airing this past week in the feisty race for Maryland's open Senate seat, initiating an aggressive new phase of the campaign in the final weeks before the state's primary election.

In a state where GOP primaries are often muted, even Republican Senate candidate Kathy Szeliga launched a TV ad — a jaunty introductory spot that featured the state House minority whip on a motorcycle.

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Democratic Rep. Donna F. Edwards aired her first ad and used it to criticize her opponent. Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who has aired several ads, responded with his own ad attacking Edwards' time in office. Van Hollen also aired a new commercial with a message about school funding.

With the closely fought presidential primaries now making Maryland look increasingly relevant in that nominating process, it is likely some national candidates will also buy airtime in the state — an outcome that could drive up rates for all candidates. That's one reason Edwards and a number of House candidates locked down early contracts for the week before the April 26 election.

In Edwards' first television advertisement, she attacks Van Hollen for what she says is his willingness to compromise on Social Security benefits and take money from Wall Street interests. The campaign said it bought $156,000 in broadcast and cable airtime in the Baltimore media market — the key battleground in the Democratic contest between the candidates from the Washington suburbs.

"I said no to the Social Security cuts Chris Van Hollen said he'd consider," Edwards, of Prince George's County, says in the ad. "I don't take money from Wall Street banks, even though my opponent did."

Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, has said that Edwards and the rest of the House Democratic caucus supported him in negotiations through the major fiscal crises of four years ago. Both Van Hollen and Edwards have taken money from individuals with ties to Wall Street; neither has taken cash from banking political action committees.

Van Hollen launched an ad Friday that questions Edwards' effectiveness. It cites an analysis by InsideGov.com based on the number of bills a lawmaker drafts that are approved by committee — a somewhat crude metric, given the complex way legislation actually advances on Capitol Hill.

Earlier in the week, Van Hollen used an ad to focus on his effort as a state senator more than a decade ago to rewrite the state's school funding formula.

The 2002 law, which was based on recommendations from an independent commission, set a per-pupil funding formula for school districts that was adjusted for income and property values.

The message in the stark ad — replete with images of an empty classroom and school buses parked behind barbed wire — is an important one for Van Hollen because it is a policy he can point to that specifically helped the city.

Szeliga, of Baltimore County, did not disclose the extent of her campaign's investment in her ad, but public documents indicate she purchased broadcast airtime on Baltimore's major networks and committed about $100,000.

The ad, the first from any GOP candidate in the race, began airing Saturday.

"Washington is broken," Szeliga says in the ad. "Career politicians and D.C. insiders, they're just not going to fix it."

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