WASHINGTON -- Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid endorsed Rep. Chris Van Hollen's bid for Senate on Friday -- adding high-profile support to the candidate who is moving more quickly than any other to replace Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in the 2016 election.
"Not only would Chris Van Hollen be the best and most effective person for the job, I have no doubt that he is in the best and strongest position to make sure that this Senate seat remains in Democratic hands in a state that just elected a Republican governor," Reid said in a statement.
Van Hollen, 56, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, told supporters in an email Wednesday that he is running for the seat. He made the announcement two days after Mikulski unexpectedly announced her retirement at an event in Fells Point.
Van Hollen, who lives in Kensington and represents Maryland's 8th Congressional District, is a savvy political operator who was widely considered a possible future House speaker. Hours after he announced his campaign he had endorsements from Montgomery County Executive Isiah "Ike" Leggett and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.
Reid's endorsement represents the first time a national Democratic figure has weighed into the Maryland race.
"Chris Van Hollen is the kind of legislator who makes things happen," Reid said. "I know he will be missed in the House of Representatives, but I have no doubt that he will be an outspoken champion for democratic values in the United States Senate."
But the early endorsement by Reid rubbed some the wrong way. Steve Phillips, a party donor and founder of PowerPAC+, said Reid's effort is troubling because Maryland represents a good opportunity to elect a candidate of color to the Senate.
Rep. Donna F. Edwards of Prince George's County, for instance, is expected to make a decision on the race in coming days. Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP, also said Friday that he is considering a run for the seat. Other potential African American candidates include Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
"You've got some very strong potential candidates looking seriously at running," Phillips said. "For Reid to come in and try to clear the field for a candidate is just wrong on so many levels. It is sensitive for those of us who are trying to diversy the country and the party."