The race is on for Mikulski's seat

Who's the best replacement for Mikulski? The one who can connect with voters across the state like she does.

With U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards' announcement today that she will join Rep. Chris Van Hollen in seeking Sen. Barbara Mikulski's seat when she retires, Maryland is now guaranteed to have more turnover in its Congressional delegation than at any point since Ms. Mikulski was first elected to her seat nearly 30 years ago. At least three seats will change hands after the 2016 election, and since Rep. Steny Hoyer is the only member of the delegation who is explicitly not considering a Senate run, as many as eight could. Ambitious politicians from both parties are viewing the race for an open Senate seat as a once-in-a-generation opportunity, but the same is true for Maryland voters as well.

Ms. Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat, already has the backing of progressive groups who see her as Maryland's answer to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And already her supporters are casting the contest against Mr. Van Hollen as analogous to the divide in the Democratic Party between those who favor Hillary Clinton for president and those who want to draft Ms. Warren into the race. This is somewhat puzzling, as Mr. Van Hollen's progressive bona fides are quite strong. But it isn't in that Mr. Van Hollen is adopting the tried-and-false strategy of former Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown in flexing his muscle with a string of early endorsements, including Attorney General Brian Frosh, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and all nine members of the Montgomery County Council.

(Speaking of Mr. Brown, he sent out an email after Ms. Edwards' announcement praising her but stopping conspicuously short of endorsing her. Mr. Brown had reportedly been considering the Senate seat but is now also taking a look at a run for Congress in Ms. Edwards' district instead.)

The real spoiler of the establishment vs. progressive insurgent narrative is that Reps. Edwards and Van Hollen are highly unlikely to have the Democratic primary to themselves. Though all the other Democratic congressmen from Maryland save Mr. Hoyer have expressed interest in the Mikulski seat, two bear particular watching: Rep. John Delaney and Rep. John Sarbanes. Mr. Delaney has the personal fortune to wage a competitive state-wide race, and Mr. Sarbanes has the political fortune needed to do so. It's not so much that Mr. Sarbanes benefits from the name recognition his father, the former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, built up. It's the impressive fund-raising network of the senior Sarbanes that makes a difference. So does gerrymandering; by virtue of having one of the most contorted districts in the nation, Mr. Sarbanes has constituents in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties. That's a good base from which to expand state-wide.

Heather Mizeur, who built an energized and loyal following through her well regarded campaign for governor last year, could easily steal much of the progressive thunder from Ms. Edwards. She has nothing to lose, having already given up her seat in the House of Delegates, and her experience and ideas are arguably better suited to the U.S. Senate than the governor's mansion. Former NAACP head Ben Jealous has similarly strong progressive credentials, having steered the nation's oldest civil rights organization into engagement on same-sex marriage, immigration policy, capital punishment and criminal justice issues generally, and though he would be a first-time candidate, he is not new to electoral politics, having worked extensively on get-out-the-vote efforts and political fund-raising.

There could be others. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who was recently term-limited out of his seat on the House Intelligence Committee, may be particularly tempted by the prospect of a run. Former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has expressed interest in the seat, as has Susan Burke, an attorney notable for her work on sexual harassment in the military, among other high profile issues. And the more candidates who get in the race, the more tempting it might become to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake who, by virtue of her administration's insistence that the city's municipal elections coincide with presidential elections rather than gubernatorial ones, would have to give up her re-election hopes to run for Senate. With former Gov. Martin O'Malley announcing he won't run for Ms. Mikulski's seat, no other candidate has the kind of base in Baltimore City that Ms. Rawlings-Blake does. Given the possibility that the vote in the Baltimore and Washington suburbs will be split multiple ways, that might be enough.

The Republican side has been slower to develop, but it could still be compelling. Rep. Andy Harris is considering a run, as is former Secret Service Agent Dan Bongino, who nearly knocked off Mr. Delaney last year. Given Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's victory, it would be foolish for Democrats to write off either of them.

What's a poor voter to make of all this? It's impossible, of course, to know what issues will be most compelling come 2016 or which of the myriad possible candidates will best address them. Some are already talking about why they are best suited to carry on Ms. Mikulski's work in one area or another, but there is one aspect of her legacy voters should seek above all others, and that is her ability to connect with people all across Maryland. That this, her hometown paper, praised her upon her announcement that she would retire should be no surprise. But if you read some of the editorials and news coverage from around the state, you'd think she was from the Eastern Shore or Anne Arundel or Hagerstown or Carroll County. That's no easy feat, but with so many possible candidates to replace Senator Mikulski, we certainly hope at least one can manage it.

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