WASHINGTON — Rep. Chris Van Hollen said Tuesday that his campaign for Senate is capturing support from progressive Democrats -- particularly those who vote in Maryland -- despite his opponent's effort to count the party's liberal base as her own.
Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and his opponent, Rep. Donna Edwards of Prince George's County, have been battling for months to position themselves as the candidate best suited to represent progressives who will drive turnout in the April primary.
Edwards was urged to run by several national groups on the party's left, including Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Emily's List, which backs female Democrats who support abortion rights. Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, has been endorsed by Heather R. Mizeur, a former state lawmaker who has a energetic following of liberals, as well as dozens of Democratic state lawmakers.
Van Hollen, who has been cautious in his criticism of Edwards, used his strongest language yet on Tuesday to draw a distinction between the national groups and local leaders. He also noted that he has received more financial support from within the state. Several analyses of campaign finance reports, including one this year by The Baltimore Sun, found that most of Edwards' money has come from out-of-state sources.
"If you look at the Maryland progressive community, they're supporting Van Hollen for Senate," the congressman said, stressing the word "Maryland" in a call hosted by the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. "It's a fact that my opponent has relied overwhelmingly on support from outside of the state of Maryland."
An Edwards spokesman responded by saying that Van Hollen is trying to "rebrand himself as a progressive" and reiterated criticism of the congressman's votes in favor of some trade deals, as well as comments he made that were supportive of a bipartisan panel's deficit reduction recommendations as a "framework" for a broader budget deal that never came to pass.
That panel's work has been criticized by liberals because it called for cuts to entitlements, including Social Security. Van Hollen did not endorse specific provisions of the plan.
"She will be a champion for Maryland progressives in the Senate, standing up to special interests and the politicians they've bought," said Edwards' spokesman, Benjamin Gerdes.
The director of Democracy for America accused Van Hollen of lying about his support from progressives.
"The progressive community is overwhelmingly united behind Donna, and clearly, Mr. Van Hollen is freaking out, if he's willing to do and say whatever it takes to misrepresent his support," Charles Chamberlain, the group's executive director, said in a statement.
Assessing who has more support among the state's progressive voters is not possible; however, both candidates have substantially similar voting records in Congress. Edwards' campaign has noted several bills -- including the trade measures -- on which she the two have split their votes, both those represent a small fraction of their record.
Non-partisan analyses, such as those put together by National Journal, have frequently ranked Edwards as the most liberal Democrat in Congress, sharing the No. 1 spot with others in the party.
But those same analyses have also placed Van Hollen on the left end of the caucus.
Both candidates have a high score with national labor unions -- another measure of their voting histories. The AFL-CIO, for instance, gives Van Hollen a 95 percent lifetime score and rates Edwards at 98 percent.