Sen. John Kerry headlined a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings yesterday in what Democrats said will be a concentrated effort by their party's national stars to help candidates in Maryland this year.
Cummings doesn't have any declared opposition to his re-election bid, but he said the presence of the Massachusetts senator - the party's 2004 presidential nominee - is a sign that Maryland, despite being heavily Democratic, is likely to be the site of pitched battles in this fall's general election.
"The senator has been traveling throughout the country trying to help Democrats," Cummings said. "We are determined here in Maryland to make sure we win this Senate race and the governor's seat, and he's ... trying to help us do that."
With Republicans facing lobbying scandals and a decline in President Bush's popularity, Democrats say they see a chance to take back control of at least one chamber of Congress this fall.
Retaining a Democratic Senate seat in Maryland would ordinarily be seen as nearly a sure thing, but Maryland Republicans are rallying behind the candidacy of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who polls show has the best chance of any GOP candidate in a generation to win.
Losing in Maryland would make it extremely difficult for Democrats to pick up the half-dozen Senate seats they need to take control of that chamber.
"The word is out that there's a lot happening in Maryland and that these races are very critical if we are going to take back the Senate," said Terry Lierman, chairman of the state Democratic Party.
Defeating Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland's first Republican chief executive in more than 30 years, also would send a powerful message nationwide, especially in the aftermath of Democrat Tim Kaine's win in the Virginia governor's race last year, Lierman said.
Cummings said he expects to see other national Democratic figures visiting Maryland in the coming months, such as former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a likely 2008 presidential candidate.
Mike Christianson, a Cummings aide, said the donations from yesterday's event will go to the congressman's re-election fund. He said Cummings plans to get as much fundraising as possible out of the way early this year to enable him to spend more time before the general election helping other party candidates.
"Hopefully we can get through the primary with our candidates unscathed," Cummings said. "I think Democrats know what we have to do. It's just a matter of getting them to do it."