The National Organization for Women endorsed Rep. Donna Edwards' bid for Senate on Tuesday, becoming the second major women's group to support the Prince George's County Democrat.
Edwards, one of two women in Maryland's congressional delegation, also has the backing of Emily's List, the Washington-based group that is spending $1 million on advertising in the Baltimore media market to support her campaign.
Edwards and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County are running for the Senate seat that has been held since 1987 by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. Viewed as a leading advocate for women, Mikulski is retiring in 2017.
"Barbara Mikulski may be retiring, but Maryland still needs a senator with a strong record of fighting for women and families in Washington," Terry O'Neill, NOW's president, said in a statement. "Donna Edwards has always been there for women, and in 2016 women will be there for Donna Edwards."
But the announcement met with consternation from local NOW leaders in Maryland, who said they encouraged the national organization to sit out the primary election because there was wide support for both candidates.
"We need to note that our national leadership has announced the endorsement despite the official recommendation of the state and local NOW leaders to refrain from endorsing in the primary," Holly Taggart Joseph, Montgomery County NOW co-president and Maryland NOW treasurer, said in a statement.
Local NOW officials said their decision not to endorse followed a close vote between Van Hollen and Edwards in the race by the state council, and group's leaders were concerned about fracturing the organization. The Maryland-based NOW leaders said the national group's decision to back a candidate "contravenes its own longstanding procedures of endorsing only when requested by state or local affiliates."