Rep. Chris Van Hollen announced the support Tuesday of three state progressive leaders for his Maryland Senate campaign, part of the Democrat's effort to waive aside criticism leveled by his opponent about his liberal bona fides.
Montgomery County Councilman Tom Hucker and longtime liberal advocates Sean Dobson, now a consultant, and Kate Planco Waybright said they are backing Van Hollen over Rep. Donna Edwards for the seat that is being left open in 2017 by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's retirement.
All three previously led Progressive Maryland, a group that has pushed for liberal policies in Annapolis. But that group has not yet chosen a candidate in the current Senate contest, despite having done so in previous cycles, and so the three were not speaking on its behalf.
The endorsements play into a broader narrative of the Senate race: Edwards has cast herself as an uncompromising liberal, while Van Hollen has played up what he describes as his ability to work with everyone to advance an agenda.
Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, has sharpened his language in drawing what he views as the contrast with Edwards.
"Progressives are interested in results, not rhetoric," Van Hollen said in a call with reporters Tuesday. "We need to move the progressive cause forward."
Van Hollen is making a similar pitch in the latest television advertisement he is running Baltimore, arguing that, "It's important to know when to fight, and when to find common ground."
The Edwards campaign fired back Tuesday with a quote from a Progressive Maryland board member, Sandy Bell, who is supporting Edwards.
"Donna's the true progressive in this race because she's always been on the right side of the issues," Edwards spokesman Benjamin Gerdes said in a statement. "Try as he might, no amount of TV ads or conference calls can rewrite Van Hollen's record."
The two candidates have been trading barbs for months over Social Security, trade, and gun control. Edwards has criticized Van Hollen for describing a 2010, bipartisan deficit reduction proposal as a "framework" for a larger budget deal that never materialized. That plan included cuts to Social Security, though Van Hollen never specifically endorsed them.
Edwards, of Prince George's County, has also criticized Van Hollen for supporting several trade deals. Van Hollen has supported some of the agreements, which are widely opposed by labor, and voted against others. Both candidate are opposing President Barack Obama's pending trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries.
Edwards has the support of several national liberal groups, such as the Vermont-based Democracy for America. Those groups have said they have a large membership in Maryland, but Hucker has questioned how well organized they are in the state.
"I don't understand where their expert status comes from in terms of judging a Maryland lawmaker," Hucker said. "I don't recall seeing them anywhere in Annapolis."
Neil Sroka, a spokesman for DFA, said that the group has 30,000 "active members" in Maryland. Asked how someone becomes a member, Sroka said anyone is welcome to join and that the organization then tries to connect them with organizing opportunities.
Sroka said in a statement that Van Hollen's supporters are "desperate to confuse" voters about which candidate is the most progressive.