Elijah Cummings endorsed Hillary Clinton for president of the United States and Catherine Pugh for mayor of Baltimore. But he has yet to make an endorsement in the Maryland Democratic Senate primary between Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen.

Cummings, who spent almost a year mulling a Senate campaign before deciding to seek re-election to the House, has not made a final decision about making an endorsement, according to an aide. So I suppose there's still a possibility he'll publicly support one of the candidates.


But other Democrats who serve Maryland in Congress, including both of our senators, are holding their tongues.

And pardon me for saying so, but that's a cop-out.

Cummings is widely respected among Democrats, and his endorsement Tuesday of Pugh in the Baltimore primary is sure to give her surprisingly strong candidacy an important boost.

You can say that endorsements don't mean much — that you don't need a politician to tell you how to vote — but they certainly can be influential, especially in a tight contest with a lot of undecided voters.

So Cummings' endorsement of Pugh carries big meaning, and it could help Pugh pull further away from her nearest challenger, Sheila Dixon, the former mayor.

The Senate primary between Van Hollen and Edwards is also tight, and Cummings' endorsement — or one from Barbara Mikulski, the senator whose seat the candidates seek to fill — could influence voters having a tough time making up their minds.

But Mikulski is sitting this one out. The other day she said she would remain "studiously neutral" on the Van Hollen-Edwards question.

Are you kidding me?

The senior senator with an opinion on just about everything has no opinion about which of these candidates should replace her in the Senate?

"Marylanders are very fortunate to have strong Democratic candidates to choose from in the upcoming primary for the Senate seat I am vacating," Mikulski said in a statement. "I know all the competitors and have sought to stay studiously neutral. I am so grateful the citizens of [Maryland] have such fine choices."

Oh, please.

Mikulski has nothing to lose by making an endorsement. She retires next January.

You can almost understand why returning members of the delegation — Cummings, along with representatives Dutch Ruppersberger, Steny Hoyer, John Sarbanes and John Delaney — want to take a pass on this one. Most go back eight years with Edwards, and 13 with Van Hollen. Unless a Republican candidate scores a major upset in November, they will have to work with the winner of the Democratic primary.

So, I suppose there's collegial courtesy involved in not making a choice.


"The avoidance of endorsements by other congressional Democrats — I'm not surprised in the least," says the always rational Melissa Deckman, who chairs the political science department at Washington College. "There is no clear front-runner, so why alienate a potential victor that you snubbed early in the race?"

I can tell you why.

Men and women elected to public office enjoy a bully pulpit to speak out on all kinds of issues they think are important. They do it all the time.

Members of Congress can reliably expect the news media to quote them or ask them to make appearances on television and radio. They lead with their rhetorical skills, serving as explainers, as inquisitors, as scolds, as champions of the causes that deserve public attention.

Immersed in an array of matters in Washington, members of Congress are expected to share insights with their constituents and make decisions about what to support and what to reject. And sometimes that means making tough calls.

Apparently, Maryland's congressional Democrats see Edwards-Van Hollen as a tough call. So they've decided not to make a judgment in public.

Ruppersberger, says his spokeswoman, Jaime Lennon, "has a good relationship with Van Hollen because they both worked together in leadership and came into Congress together, but it's been his general policy not to endorse in the primary."

Of course, one could argue — and I do — that a primary is the only time a congressional Democrat's endorsement matters.

I did not hear back from Sarbanes. Delaney took a pass.

Here's what Hoyer said: "I will not be endorsing in the Senate race. Voters will need to make a judgment on who they think can best deliver results. I will support our nominee in the general election to ensure we elect a Democratic successor to Senator Mikulski."

As for Maryland's other senator, Ben Cardin, his spokeswoman, Sue Walitsky, said: "He will not endorse in the primary. He has worked with both Congresswoman Edwards and Congressman Van Hollen. Both are hardworking lawmakers. Senator Cardin looks forward to teaming up with whomever is the Democratic nominee to ensure he has a strong, Democratic partner in the U.S. Senate next year."

That makes it sound as if there is no difference between Edwards and Van Hollen. But if anyone knows better, you'd think it would be the people who worked with them in Washington.