Psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren, a political novice and sister of Fox News television personality Greta Van Susteren, announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate yesterday, saying she wants to fix the nation's fractured health care system and doesn't think current officeholders are up to the task.
"I am not a career politician. I am a citizen fed up with the way the country is headed," Van Susteren, 54, said during a kickoff speech at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.
"While they may be well meaning, I have lost confidence that the professional politicians can turn things around," she said. "The U.S. Senate needs to be shaken up, and I am not afraid to do it."
Running as a Democrat, Van Susteren joins a field that includes two established politicians, former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore County.
Mfume, a former congressman from Baltimore, was first to enter the race after incumbent Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes announced in March that he would not seek re-election. Cardin has garnered the most endorsements and the most campaign cash.
On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele is considering the race.
Van Susteren, all but unknown to Maryland voters, used her first public speech of the campaign to explain her passions and her frustrations with national issues, including education and the war in Iraq.
Her taste for politics, she said, comes in part from her father, the late Urban Van Susteren, an elected judge in Wisconsin who was a campaign manager for red-baiting Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy.
"My father did not share his views," she said. "However, I grew up, as many did, witnessing the destructive force of McCarthyism on the nation and, I have to admit, on my family. The result is that I have little tolerance for bullies, for people who use scare tactics and who abuse power, something we have been seeing on the national stage unfortunately a lot."
Van Susteren said she supports embryonic stem cell research, gay marriage and abortion rights, and she called efforts to restrict abortions a "creepy trend."
She said she would work to preserve Social Security and would back re-importing prescription drugs from Canada.
She called the Iraq war a "terrible mistake."
"I don't know the motives of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their advisers when they decided to go to war," she said. "But who can deny their recklessness and bad judgment?
"I would not have gone in to begin with, but now that we are there, we must have a real plan to get out."
Her most specific proposals were in health care. She called for electronic medical records to reduce waste and inefficiency, and she said she would push for efforts to reduce obesity and smoking.
Van Susteren said she was giving up her psychiatric practice so that she could campaign full time.
Van Susteren was accompanied by family members, including her sister and her husband, Jonathan Kempner, president and chief executive officer of the Mortgage Bankers Association, a national trade group.
Van Susteren, her husband and their daughters, Aliza, Delaney and Piera, moved from Washington to a $2.2 million home in Bethesda two years ago.
Van Susteren said she would welcome the support of fans of her sister, whom she called "a wonderful friend and confidante," but that she intends to campaign on her own.
She said she is willing to spend some of her own money on the race but would not specify an amount, saying that would be revealed through campaign finance statements.