Amid national surge of women candidates, Maryland wrestles with all-male representation in Washington

Sen. Barbara Mikulski previews the stage at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, where she later gave a speech and was joined onstage by the other Democratic women senators.

WASHINGTON — A year after Maryland sent an all-male delegation to Congress for the first time in four decades, some female candidates are questioning whether elected officials and organizations in the state are doing enough to avoid a similar outcome again.

Amid a national surge of women launching bids for Congress and other offices, only about a half dozen are campaigning for the House or Senate from Maryland.


Several say they are surprised by what they view as a lack of early enthusiasm among party leaders for their campaigns. Members of Maryland's mostly Democratic congressional delegation have, so far, withheld formal endorsements, and there's been little evidence anyone is lending much fundraising support to the women.

Members of both parties publicly fretted after men claimed the state's highest-profile federal contests in 2016. A bevy of news coverage noted the irony, given the groundbreaking and lengthy tenure of retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the dean of Senate women.


Del. Aruna Miller, a Montgomery County woman, is running for the Democratic nomination in Maryland's 6th Congressional District, a race that presents the best chance either party has to elect a woman to Congress this year.

"I'm frustrated," said the 53-year-old traffic engineer, a former president of the women's caucus in the General Assembly. "I like to consider myself the most qualified candidate [but] I'm being told by people and organizations that are making endorsements, 'We've known him a little bit longer.'

"That's the reason why you're supporting this person?"

Party leaders lamented the lack of diversity in the state's congressional delegation after the 2016 election, when Mikulski retired.

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, the other woman in Maryland's 10-member delegation at the time, gave up her House seat that year to run for Mikulski's seat. She lost in the Democratic primary to eventual general election winner Chris Van Hollen and left Congress early last year.

Spirited campaigns by Democrat Kathleen Matthews in the 8th Congressional District, Democrat Joseline Pena-Melnyk in the 4th District and Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga in the statewide race for Senate were also unsuccessful.

Maryland is now one of a dozen states with an all-male congressional delegation.

By contrast, it has one of the highest shares of women in the state legislature, ranked 10th by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.


The decision of incumbent Rep. John Delaney to run for the Democratic presidential nomination has left the state's most competitive congressional district wide open. Four women — two Democrats and two Republicans — have filed to run in the 6th.

In four of the state's eight House seats, no women from the major parties have filed.

Debbie "Rica" Wilson, a former school teacher and nonprofit founder from Charles County, has filed to challenge Sen. Ben Cardin in the Democratic primary, as has Chelsea Manning, the transgender woman who served more than six years in a military prison for sharing hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents with Wikileaks.

In all, seven major party female candidates have formally filed for House and Senate seats so far this year. That's half the number who signed up in 2016.

To be sure, the number of women running in Maryland is limited in part by political realities: Democrats have drawn the state's congressional districts to discourage competition — seven favor Democrats, one a Republican — and all but one incumbent is seeking re-election. The filing deadline for the June 26 primary is still a month away, and many political organizations — including the state parties — generally avoid weighing into primaries.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who endorsed Miller, a member of his caucus, said that the political landscape in the state doesn't lend itself to a crowd of candidates — men or women — running for Congress.


"We're looking for candidates for [districts with retiring incumbents] that we know we have to replace," Busch said. "I don't think there's people out there looking to replace [Rep.] Steny Hoyer or Ben Cardin or people like that. … Who's going to argue with the career of Senator Cardin?"

While state parties rarely pick a candidate ahead of a primary, there are ways the establishment can weigh in. On the Republican side, for example, Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County and other Republican leaders are planning a fundraiser this spring for Amie Hoeber, a defense consultant seeking the GOP nomination in the 6th District.

Hoeber, a Montgomery County woman, was the GOP nominee for the same seat in 2016. She made arguments similar to Democrats at the time about the importance of having a woman in Washington.

Hoeber, 76, said her party has chipped in, and will do more if she wins the primary.

"I think if you look at the record, the Republicans have done a better job than the Democrats" at getting behind women candidates, Hoeber said. "There are a lot of reasons why having one woman in a group of men changes the dynamic of the whole group."

Maryland had at least one woman in its congressional delegation for more than four decades from 1973, when Republican Marjorie S. Holt took office, until January 2017, when Mikulski retired. The state had a long history of electing and re-electing women such as Republicans Constance A. Morella and Helen Delich Bentley and Democrat Beverly B. Byron.


None of them had the staying power of Mikulski, who served in Congress from 1977 until early last year.

Edwards was perhaps the most vocal critic of her own party following the last election. In a fiery concession speech after losing the Democratic nomination to Van Hollen, she upbraided party leaders for what she viewed as a lack of interest in women and African-American candidates.

Edwards, currently running for Prince George's County executive, declined to comment.

This year's crop of candidates has been more cautious in their rhetoric. But many — particularly on the Democratic side — say they see a disconnect between the national crush of women lining up to run for Congress and the scene in Maryland.

More than 220 women filed to run for the House nationwide in 1992, which some labeled the "year of the women." This year, following the election of President Donald J. Trump, nearly 400 have filed or are likely to do so, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. About 80 percent of them are Democrats, according to the group.

Dr. Nadia Hashimi, a Montgomery County pediatrician, is running for the Democratic nomination in the 6th Congressional District.


"When I go to some of these party gatherings, what I'm noticing is that women are there — they're present at the gatherings," said Hashimi, 40. "But still they're not present on the ballot in the numbers we need to see."

Allison Galbraith, a Democrat running in the state's 1st Congressional District, said she met with several members of the state's congressional delegation early on, but that those meetings haven't yet translated into much help. The 35-year-old Harford County woman said she has come to not expect it.

Galbraith is the only woman campaigning in the heavily Republican district, currently represented by Harris. Galbraith, who has run an active campaign, is hoping Harris' support for Trump will help her overcome difficult partisan headwinds in the district.

"When I first started running and told people I was interested in district one, I must have had five people look at me and say, 'Why don't you go run for a state seat that's winnable?'

"No, the establishment is not doing a whole, whole lot for me. I've also not asked them for much of anything," she said. "I just kind of assumed, based on my earlier experience in dealing with them, that I was on my own here."

Matthews, who is currently the chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said she believes the loss by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had inspired women to run "up and down the ballot." Matthews pointed to a recent change in state party rules that requires central committees to elect an equal number of men and women to run the local party apparatus. Those grassroots positions often become a feeder system, grooming future candidates for public office.


"We have been meeting with women in every part of the state who will be leaders in the party for years to come, encouraging them to throw their hat into the ring, providing training and resources for new candidates," Matthews said.

Hoyer, the Southern Maryland Democrat who has long been closely involved in races and political issues across the state, and who has endorsed congressional candidates before primaries in the past, said he is "encouraged that so many qualified women are making the decision to step up and run."

Without addressing specific questions about the concerns raised by some candidates, he said in a statement he would "continue to support strong Democratic candidates and work to bring their diverse voices to the halls of government."

The issue is arguably more acute for Democrats because the state's congressional districts give the GOP fewer opportunities to run competitive campaigns. The exception is the 6th District, which joins mostly Republican Western Maryland with heavily Democratic portions of Montgomery and Frederick counties.

Delaney, the incumbent, barely won re-election in the 2014 midterm election.

Lisa Lloyd, a nurse practitioner from Montgomery County who is running for the Republican nomination in the 6th District, said it doesn't matter whether a man or woman succeeds Delaney.


"Republicans just don't care about gender or race — they care more about the ideas, the thoughts and the goals," said Lloyd, 54.

Dirk Haire, the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, said he doesn't believe voters should select a candidate based on their sex.

But, he said, "I do think it is helpful to have different perspectives represented."

State Sen. Roger Manno, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the 6th District, said the state's all-male delegation is "absolutely a problem." The 51-year-old Montgomery County man is an attorney and former congressional staffer.

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"It's a problem across the board and I think a lot of us take it very seriously," he said.

Asked why he thought voters shouldn't therefore consider supporting a woman in his race, Manno said he thought it was important to elect someone who is "progressive" and "represents the real challenges of folks" across the district.


"Voters will have to make decisions for themselves," he said. "One of the good things about this Democratic primary is it is extremely diverse."

Emily's List, the Washington-based group that helps to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, has endorsed Miller but no other congressional candidate in the state. The group rose to prominence 30 years ago by backing Mikulski's 1986 bid for Senate, the first of five successful statewide campaigns.

"With such a fantastic opportunity to elect a qualified, passionate woman to be a part of this all-male delegation, it is our hope that she receives strong support from the other Democratic leaders in the state," Emily's List spokeswoman Julie McClain Downey said of Miller. "It's critical that a woman have a seat at the table."