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Chris Van Hollen endorsed by NARAL

Rep. Chris Van Hollen picks up the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice at an event in Silver Spring on Wednesday, July 13.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen picks up the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice at an event in Silver Spring on Wednesday, July 13. (John Fritze)

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic nominee seeking Maryland's open Senate seat, picked up the endorsement Wednesday of NARAL Pro-Choice America -- a predictable nod that nevertheless underscored the effort both candidates are making to connect with women.

Van Hollen is running against Republican state Del. Kathy Szeliga, who has frequently touted her status as a mother and a grandmother and who has lamented the possibility that Maryland may go without a woman in its congressional delegation for the first time since the 1970s.

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If the Van Hollen playbook feels familiar, it is because the Montgomery County lawmaker just ran it effectively in the Democratic primary against Rep. Donna F. Edwards, who also often discussed the importance of a woman's perspective. Van Hollen countered by locking down endorsements from virtually every woman's group and elected female Democrat in the state.

Van Hollen wound up leading Edwards by 14 percentage points among women, according to exit polls from the April primary. It is likely to be an even easier to pitch in the general election since there are policy differences between the two candidates on issues such as abortion and funding for Planned Parenthood.

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"The last thing we need is an anti-choice senator at this critical moment," Van Hollen said at the Silver Spring event Wednesday as he continued to lump Szeliga in with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. "These are people who are on the record, they've got voting records."

At the same time, Democrats in Maryland are likely to be careful with how they approach abortion and other social issues this year. Szeliga -- taking her cue from Gov. Larry Hogan's successful campaign in 2014 -- has repeatedly said she doesn't intend to get drawn into those debates and, like Hogan, will focus on the economy and what she views as the insider culture of Washington.

"Even though 7-in-10 Americans support safe and legal access to abortion, anti-choice politicians like Chris' opponent are trying to restrict our families' access to basic health care," said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "We need a champion like Chris Van Hollen fighting for our values in Washington."

In a statement, Szeliga said the NARAL event spoke to "what's wrong with career politicians," arguing that women are primary concerned with the economy and "protecting their family from the threat of domestic and foreign terrorism."

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"Rather than telling Marylanders what they 'need,' I've been listening to what they want," Szeliga said. "And Marylanders want to change Washington."

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