The minute-long ad, which is running on broadcast and cable television in Baltimore, focuses on Van Hollen's work on the environment, gun control and Social Security as both a former state lawmaker in Annapolis and during his seven terms in the House.
Those are issues his opponent, Rep. Donna Edwards, has attempted to use against him since the two announced they were running for retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's seat. Because Van Hollen is on the air in now, he is working to define himself on the issues before most voters in Baltimore hear from Edwards.
"Chris Van Hollen is not afraid to take on the special interests," Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, an early supporter of Van Hollen's campaign, says in the ad. "I’'e seen him take on the NRA on guns. I've seen him take on the oil companies on the environment."
The ads tells the story of Carole Price, whose 13-year-old son, John, was killed in White Marsh in 1998 by another boy who was handling his family's gun. Van Hollen led the effort in the General Assembly in 2000 to pass legislation that required all handguns sold in Maryland to come equipped with built-in trigger locks, the ad says.
"We did it for Carole Price, and all the other moms and all the other families," Van Hollen says in the ad.
The focus on guns comes as Edwards has criticized Van Hollen for his handling of a campaign finance bill approved by the House in 2010. The measure, which Van Hollen introduced, would have required disclosure of top donors to corporations and other groups airing political advertising. To capture support for the measure, Democratic leaders included a carve out for the National Rifle Association -- a move that drew outrage from progressives.
The bill was altered to exempt groups that have at least 500,000 members and chapters in all 50 states, characteristics that applied to the NRA and also groups like Sierra Club. The rewritten bill narrowly passed the House, with 217 Democrats voting for it and 36 Democrats -- including Edwards -- in opposition.
It died in the Senate.
Edwards' campaign noted the issue again Wednesday, arguing Van Hollen "pushed for and voted for a special interest loophole in a campaign finance bill that would allow the NRA to secretly buy off politicians."
The ad notes Van Hollen's effort to stop oil drilling in the Chesapeake Bay before moving on to another issue that has been controversial in the Senate race.
"I saw when Republicans in Washington tried to cut our Social Security benefits," Gloria Lawlah, the former Maryland Secretary of Aging, says in the ad. "Chris led the fight to stop those cuts."
The debate around Social Security -- at least in the context of the Senate race -- is more nuanced. First, it wasn't Republicans who were suggesting the cuts at issue, but rather the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission. That commission made recommendations in 2010 that included, among other things, changing the cost of living adjustment for seniors on Social Security.
Edwards has criticized Van Hollen, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, for saying that the Bowles-Simpson recommendations could provide "an important framework" for the so-called grand bargain on taxes and spending that never happened. Still, Van Hollen's language was careful at the time, and he never endorsed specific recommendations included in the plan.
Later, President Barack Obama included the cost of living calculation in his proposed budgets. Van Hollen then publicly opposed the idea.
Van Hollen is able to get his message heard on television in large part because he has significantly outraised Edwards. Van Hollen reported having $4.1 million in the bank at the end of September, compared with $368,507 for Edwards.
Still, early polling has given a big advantage to Edwards. Notably, a Washington Post poll last week showed Edwards leading Van Hollen 38 percent to 28 percent.
The Van Hollen campaign has disputed the poll's methodology -- noting it allowed respondents to self-identify as Democratic primary voters. At the same time, Van Hollen's campaign has declined to disclose its own internal polling.
In a statement, an Edwards campaign spokesman said that "Van Hollen continues to lose ground in the polls and is frantically trying to run away from his record."