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The congressional vacancy created by the death last month of Rep. Elijah Cummings has attracted nearly three-dozen candidates — including Cummings’ widow, a former congressman, four state legislators and a law professor.

Twenty-four Democrats and eight Republicans filed before the Nov. 20 deadline to run in a special primary election in the 7th Congressional District.

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The primary is scheduled for Feb. 4 with a general election April 28 to fill the rest of Cummings’ term.

Open congressional seats are often hotly contested.

“I think it’s exciting because it’s what democracy is supposed to be,” said state Democratic Sen. Jill Carter of Baltimore, who began her campaign last week.

But it can be challenging for candidates to distinguish themselves from the pack.

The campaign of F. Michael Higginbotham, a University of Baltimore School of Law professor, said it plans to tap into support from college students to generate interest.

“With the strength and numbers in our student involvement and their abilities in social media and digital media, we feel confident we’ll get Michael out there,” said Chris Gowen, a former Clinton administration aide and Higginbotham’s campaign manager.

In 1996, 28 Democrats and four Republicans filed for a special 7th District election won by Cummings, who held the seat until his death. The election was held to succeed Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who stepped down to lead the NAACP.

Twenty-three years later, Mfume is seeking to regain the seat.

Among the other Democrats running are Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Cummings’ widow and former chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party; state House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch; longtime Cummings staff member Harry Spikes; Del. Terri L. Hill, a physician; international public health professional T. Dan Baker; pulmonologist Dr. Mark Gosnell; and community activist Saafir Rabb.

Del. Jay Jalisi of Baltimore County was among the last-minute filers, smiling for pictures in the Maryland State Board of Elections office in Annapolis as he signed his paperwork Nov. 20.

The Republican candidates include Kimberly Klacik, who runs a nonprofit and is a member of a county Republican Central Committee; former 2nd Congressional candidate Liz Matory; grassroots activist and businesswoman Reba A. Hawkins; businessman Ray Bly; and William T. Newton, a member of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee.

The other listed Republicans are Christopher Anderson of Baltimore, James C. Arnold of Baltimore County and Brian L. Brown of Montgomery County.

The other Democrats are Alicia D. Brown of Baltimore County, Anthony Carter Sr. of Baltimore, Matko Lee Chullin III of Baltimore County, Jay Fred Cohen of Howard County, Nathaniel M. Costley Sr. of Carroll County, Jermyn Davidson of Charles County, Darryl Gonzalez of Carroll County, Leslie E. Grant of Baltimore County, Dan L. Hiegel of Baltimore, Paul V. Konka of Baltimore County, Adrian Petrus of Prince George’s County, Charles U. Smith of Baltimore and Charles Stokes of Baltimore County.

Cummings had a rare form of cancer called thymic carcinoma when he died Oct. 17 at 68.

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The district includes parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County, though candidates are not required to live in the district.

Sixty-eight percent of the district’s voters are Democrats, 16 percent are Republicans and the rest are unaffiliated or belong to third parties.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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