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Rep. Donna F. Edwards announced her run for Senate via video, jumping into a crowded race to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. The Democrat was first elected to the House in 2008.

WASHINGTON -- A powerful political group that helped elect Barbara A. Mikulski to the Senate nearly 30 years ago will endorse Rep. Donna F. Edwards to be her successor -- throwing considerable fundraising heft behind her campaign.

Emily's List, the Washington-based group that helps to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, plans to announce its endorsement of the Prince George's County lawmaker on Thursday.

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"She is poised to make history as the second African-American woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate -- the first in over two decades," Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement.

Mikulski -- the first candidate Emily's List endorsed -- announced this month she will retire in 2017, creating a scramble among state Democrats who are considering a run for the rare open seat.

Edwards and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County have announced campaigns for the Democratic nomination next April. More than a dozen others have said they are thinking about it.

"This election is about values, and I stand united with Emily's List in the fight for policies to protect a woman's right to choose from Tea Party attacks, promote equal pay for equal work, and ensure access to quality, affordable childcare for all working families," Edwards said in a statement.

The Emily's List endorsement comes despite early speculation that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, another African American woman who would likely have broad appeal, might enter the race. But the mayor has been noticeably mum, and some will read the Emily's List decision as the latest sign she is not running.

A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake said she will make a decision based on conversations with her family and after evaluating how effective she can be as mayor while running for another office.

"The mayor has consistently said her decision to run for Senate will not be based on who else is running and what endorsements they might have," spokesman Kevin Harris said Wednesday evening. "Her first priority is making sure that Baltimore City continues to realize its full potential through the reforms her administration has put in place."

Emily's List could help Edwards overcome what many see as one of her biggest challenges: Lack of a fundraising network. The group spent more than $60 million in the 2014 election cycle, according to reports filed with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission, making it one of the country's most engaged third-party political groups.

If elected, Edwards, 56, would be the first African American to represent Maryland in the Senate, and only the second black woman in the Senate's history. Democrat Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois served a single term from 1993 to 1999.

While Edwards has the backing of several national liberal groups, she has yet to announce any endorsements from colleagues. Van Hollen, by contrast, quickly announced the backing of Montgomery County Executive Isiah "Ike" Leggett and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

Edwards defeated 15-year incumbent Al Wynn in the 2008 Democratic primary and was elected in a special election later that year. She represents the 4th Congressional District.

In endorsing her for Senate, Emily's List cited her votes to support funding for Planned Parenthood and equal pay legislation, among other things.

"In 1986, Emily's List helped Barbara Mikulski, our very first endorsed candidate, shatter a glass ceiling," Schriock said. "Donna Edwards shares the progressive Maryland values needed to carry on this important legacy."

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