Former Montgomery County Council president Valerie Ervin announced Wednesday she is running for the open seat in Maryland's 8th Congressional District, adding her name to one of the state's most compelling political contests.
Ervin, a Silver Spring resident who has long been considered a potential candidate for the seat, announced her campaign in a video that highlighted her work raising the county's minimum wage and saving a Bethesda elementary school that was slated to close in 2006.
"Our community is strong and our dreams are big," said Ervin, who is running for the seat that will be left open by Rep. Chris Van Hollen's Senate bid. "We will run for Congress together, and together we will build a stronger community."
Ervin, 58, has some inherent advantages. Her former council district, which she represented from 2006 until 2014, covers a large portion of the congressional district in terms of population, including Silver Spring and Takoma Park. And as the first African American woman elected to the council, she is also likely to be the highest profile black candidate to run in the increasingly diverse district.
But she also faces a number of challenges, including a crowded field with several well-known figures. Kathleen Matthews, a former WJLA anchor and husband of MSNBC personality Chris Matthews, has captured significant attention since announcing her campaign in June. Sen. Jamie Raskin and Dels. Kumar Barve and Ana Sol Gutierrez are all popular figures with established political bases. A former Obama administration aide and Capitol Hill staffer, Will Jawando, is also running aggressively.
The timing of Ervin's announcement is no coincidence: She launched her campaign the day after the end of the second quarter, which means she will not have to disclose her fundraising until October. It's not clear whether she will be able to raise the kind of money needed to compete, particularly against Matthews, Raskin and Barve.
Many have quietly sought to raise expectations for Matthews' pending second-quarter report to astronomical levels. That effort was buoyed by coverage in Politico last month of a Matthews fundraiser that ran under the headline: "Kathleen Matthews and her very rich friends."
Ervin is a single mother and University of Baltimore graduate who served on the Montgomery County school board from 2004 to 2006. She resigned her council seat in January 2014 to take a position as executive director of the Center for Working Families, a progressive group that helps low-income families. She has remained active in state politics, though, and was a vocal supporter of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown's gubernatorial campaign last year.
The races to replace Van Hollen -- and his opponent, Rep. Donna F. Edwards -- have become crowded in a way that the Senate contest has not, despite early predictions of a statewide free-for-all. The 8th District has also drawn some heavy hitting consultants.
Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director for Obama, is working for Matthews. Ervin, meanwhile, has hired Martha McKenna, a longtime Democratic strategist and former political director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who has deep ties in Maryland.
McKenna also worked for years at EMILY's List, the Washington-based group that helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. Several of the female candidates in the 8th are certain to court that group's endorsement.
Raskin and Barve, meanwhile, have been racing to lock down endorsements from their colleagues in the region's legislative delegation.
The seat is widely considered safe for Democrats, though it was redrawn in 2011 to include more GOP voters. Based in Montgomery County, it also includes portions of Frederick and Carroll counties.
Van Hollen beat Republican Dave Wallace in the 2014 general election with more than 60 percent of the vote.