WASHINGTON -- Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Montgomery County Democrat running for Senate in Maryland, announced endorsements of five Frederick County officials on Thursday, representing the latest in a series of leaders in the state who are lining up behind his bid.
Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner was the highest-profile official to back Van Hollen at an event in the city of Frederick. The campaign also announced endorsements from former Rep. Beverly Byron as well as the Democratic members of the Frederick County Council.
In announcing the endorsements, the Van Hollen campaign was quick to note Gardner is the only Democratic woman serving as county executive in the state. Van Hollen is running for the seat held by retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in Congress. Mikulski has made electing women to office a centerpiece of her tenure.
Van Hollen's leading opponent so far is Rep. Donna F. Edwards. If elected, Edwards would make history as the state's first African American female senator. She would be only the second black woman to serve in the Senate's history (after Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, who served a single term from 1993 to 1999).
"Chris is the real deal," Gardner said at the event, according to the Frederick News-Post. "He knows Frederick County and he knows our needs. We need a strong leader and a strong advocate like Chris Van Hollen."
A statement from Gardner released by the campaign was more focused on women's issues: "He fights for our kids' education, he fights for women to have an equal seat at the table and he fights for an economy that helps all Marylanders get ahead.”
Van Hollen has moved quickly to lock up endorsements from state political figures. He secured the support of Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III on Wednesday. And he already had the backing of Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and Montgomery County Executive Isiah "Ike" Leggett, among others.
Baker's support -- as well as an early endorsement from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid -- led to a dialogue about racial politics in the campaign. Some believe Maryland's open Senate seat provides one of the best opportunities in the country to elect an African American to the Senate.
Gender politics, by contrast, have been less of an issue so far. Mikulski demurred on the matter in an interview with The Baltimore Sun last month. Asked if she thought a woman should occupy the seat -- given her history of promoting women in the Senate -- she said only that it is important for voters to pick someone they are "crazy about."
Three of the other four endorsements Van Hollen announced Thursday came from women. Byron, a Baltimore native and Frederick resident, represented the state's 6th Congressional District from 1979 to 1993. Three county council members also announced their support for Van Hollen: M.C. Keegan-Ayer, Jessica Fitzwater and Jerry Donald.
Edwards, who has long embraced her political independence, has not announced any endorsements from elected leaders. But she does have support from several national progressive groups, including Emily's List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.