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State's cohesive delegation confronted with electoral rift

The fast-moving race to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski could divide Maryland's normally cohesive congressional delegation, observers said Tuesday, as two House Democrats began to square off over political ideologies and allegiances.

With a video message to supporters Tuesday, Rep. Donna F. Edwards of Prince George's County became the second member of the delegation to announce a run for the coveted seat. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County was the first to enter the race last week.

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It's the first time in nearly 30 years that members of the Maryland delegation have run against each other for a Senate seat.

The race, which others in the state's eight-member House delegation are also considering, could expose rifts among state Democrats that have been mostly obscured by lockstep votes in Congress and joint news conferences in support of shared priorities such as the federal workforce and the Chesapeake Bay.

"If a couple of them run, I think there'll be a lot of pressure to take sides within the delegation," said former Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening. "It will be a vigorous campaign."

That campaign got underway Tuesday when Edwards, 56, announced what many had suspected for days: that she will pursue the seat. In a video filmed at National Harbor, Edwards took a swipe at Van Hollen by noting her position on preserving entitlements.

Edwards said she has stood up "to anyone who would compromise away Social Security and Medicare, no 'ifs,' 'ands' 'buts' or 'willing to considers.'"

Some left-leaning groups have challenged Van Hollen, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, on the supportive statements he made about recommendations from a bipartisan deficit reduction panel in 2011, which included changes to Social Security. They have pressed him to firmly oppose cuts.

"We're supporting Donna Edwards in this hotly contested race for U.S. Senate because she knows, first hand, the power of grassroots base of the Democratic Party and is ready to work with us to achieve victories in our fight for populist progressive ideas, like expanding Social Security," Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America, said in a statement.

Supporters counter that Van Hollen, an ally of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, did not endorse the final draft of the Simpson-Bowles commission, but said it could provide a "framework" for a broader, bipartisan deficit-reduction agreement that never materialized. He subsequently fought efforts to reduce cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security beneficiaries in the House.

Van Hollen, who addressed the House of Delegates in Annapolis on Tuesday, did not respond directly to questions about Edwards' decision to enter the race. But his campaign did note endorsements from three progressive Democrats in the state, in addition to the support he has already received from high-profile Democrats in Maryland and Washington.

"I've worked with him for 20 years on progressive, public health issues," said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Health Care For All Coalition. "He can get things done."

DeMarco stressed that his endorsement was a personal one, and not on behalf of his organization.

Republicans are watching the early back-and-forth between Edwards and Van Hollen closely. Some, including Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County, have said they are looking at running in the GOP primary.

"A lot of people are coming out of the woodwork," Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said.

Asked about the importance of cohesiveness in the delegation, Hogan quipped that "there won't be cohesiveness because they'll all be gone."

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Mikulski has long referred to the state's 10-member congressional delegation — or at least the nine who are Democrats — as "Team Maryland." The group has worked together recently on bringing a new headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to Prince George's County, even as some Montgomery County officials initially expressed an interest in the project.

They also haven't competed significantly on issues. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, has focused on homeland security and intelligence, for example, while Rep. John S. Sarbanes, also a Baltimore County Democrat, has been more active on environmental and federal worker issues.

And despite efforts candidates will make to draw distinctions, the Democrats rarely split their vote.

"This delegation works very closely together and they're very unified," said Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat.

Cardin, a former congressman who was not opposed by any of his fellow House Democrats when he first ran for the Senate in 2006, dismissed concerns that a primary would divide loyalties. He said the Democratic primary would ultimately be healthy for the party.

"You have pent-up energy," he said. "I would urge those who run to run a positive campaign."

The delegation continues to meet periodically, and rarely engages in public spats, but there have been breaks among the Democrats in recent years — notably, during the 2011 fight in Annapolis over the redrawing of the state's congressional districts, Edwards publicly opposed the maps advanced by Gov. Martin O'Malley, a fellow Democrat.

Several others in the delegation had concerns about the proposal — Van Hollen, for instance, traveled repeatedly to Annapolis at the time — but held their tongues publicly.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the longest-serving member of the Maryland delegation and the No. 2 Democrat in the House, declined a request for an interview about the delegation's future.

An aide said Hoyer has no plans to endorse in the Senate race.

Virtually the entire congressional delegation is at least considering a run for Senate. Edwards and Van Hollen are in; Harris, Ruppersberger and Sarbanes say they're looking at a race, as are Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and John Delaney of Montgomery County.

All of them face a difficult decision: Because candidates are prohibited from appearing on the ballot twice, a risky run for Senate means giving up the surer bet of another House term.

The last time House lawmakers in Maryland ran against each other in a Democratic primary for Senate was 1986, when Mikulski ran against then-Rep. Michael Darr Barnes of Montgomery County.

Meanwhile, more political figures began lining up Tuesday for House seats soon to be left open by the shuffle for the Senate contest. Former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey will announce on Wednesday he is running for the 4th Congressional District seat that will be left open by Edwards, for instance.

And a source close to former Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown said that the Democrat is also thinking about the seat. Brown lost to Hogan last year, but performed well in Prince George's County, where most of the district's voters live.

Brown, who has mostly remained out of sight since Hogan was inaugurated in January, released a congratulatory statement on Edwards' decision to enter the Senate race Tuesday, stopping short of endorsing her but feeding speculation about his next move.

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"Donna Edwards brings a record of progressive values and real results to the Senate race and I applaud her for seeking to serve all Marylanders," Brown said.

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