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7th Congressional District contenders race to reach same ‘super voters’ in swift campaign for Cummings’ seat

From left, Michael Williams, building repair, and Jose Jimenez, election technician, move a precinct cart Monday into the Paul C. Wolman Assembly Hall in the War Memorial building precinct in Baltimore. The special primary for the 7th congressional district is Tuesday.
From left, Michael Williams, building repair, and Jose Jimenez, election technician, move a precinct cart Monday into the Paul C. Wolman Assembly Hall in the War Memorial building precinct in Baltimore. The special primary for the 7th congressional district is Tuesday. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Maryland’s oddly shaped 7th Congressional District contains more than 422,000 voters and stretches north to south — with a snake-like configuration in the middle — from Baltimore County to Baltimore City to Howard County.

But, for the sake of the candidates in Tuesday’s 7th Congressional District primary, the area they have to cover is much smaller than that.

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As they campaigned Monday to make sure their supporters get to the polls, many of the contenders were, for efficiency’s sake, targeting the same “super voters.”

“Super voters” are people who rarely, if ever, miss elections. They are especially valuable in elections such as Tuesday’s that aren’t expected to attract heavy turnout.

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The primary — to select the Democratic and Republican nominees for the seat of the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings — may attract just 12% to 15% of registered voters, said John T. Willis, a former Maryland secretary of state.

“We rarely have elections where there is only one thing on the ballot,” said Willis, a professor of government at the University of Baltimore.

Plus, Willis said, “the candidates have had to compete with the impeachment trial, Ravens football, the holidays and the Iowa caucuses. You’ll have some precincts with less than 10% (turnout). Some might be 20%.”

The candidates’ goal is to find the precincts with the highest percentages of super voters, pitch them, and make sure they get to the polls.

“Voters who vote consistently in every election tend to be grouped in very specific places,” said Chris Gowen, campaign manager for University of Baltimore law professor F. Michael Higginbotham, one of the 24 Democratic candidates. “It’s amazing how many super voters are in the counties.”

One such enclave, Gowen said, is the Residences at Vantage Point, a senior living community in Columbia.

Senior citizens tend to vote in higher numbers than other age groups. That is particularly true at centers — such as Vantage Point and Leisure World in Montgomery County — in which seniors are clustered near polling places.

“Tomorrow, that will be the first stop after Michael votes,” Gowen said of the Columbia community.

Baltimore is home to about 60% of the district’s 343,168 Democrats “but it only has about 50% of the super voters,” said Stefan Walker, a consultant to the campaign of Democrat Jill Carter, a state senator.

“Howard County probably has little bit higher turnout number than Baltimore City,” Walker said. And he said “a big portion of the vote is the Liberty Road corridor —Randallstown, Reisterstown, Lochearn” of Baltimore County.

The Carter campaign’s outreach, Walker said, has included knocking on more than 12,000 doors — with more to come on Tuesday — and sending 120,000 text messages. Her Tuesday schedule is jammed with stops at schools that are serving as polling places.

The campaign of Democratic former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume said it will be particularly tracking turnout in precincts in which he believes he has significant support.

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If a targeted precinct is lagging, “people will be getting calls” from the Mfume campaign, said spokesman Anthony McCarthy.

“We might use some language like, ‘Your precinct is so important. We need you to do your part,’ ” McCarthy said.

Mfume, who held the Democratic-dominated 7th District seat for 10 years until stepping down in 1996, won a City Council election 40 years ago by three votes and “is very conscious that you will need every vote” on Tuesday, McCarthy said.

But the candidates have often found it challenging to generate attention.

In campaign stops in such places as Lexington Market, diners and MARC stops contenders often find themselves telling 7th District residents that, yes, there is an election.

“It’s not easy, especially when everyone’s focus is on the presidential and the (Baltimore) mayoral race,” said Democratic candidate Harry Spikes.

Spikes, a longtime aide to Cummings who has been endorsed by the late congressman’s daughters, said his team is using social media and emphasizing his Capitol Hill experience and close connection to his former boss.

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings — Cummings’ widow and former chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party — also has spoken frequently of the need to continue working on the late congressman’s priorities, such as lowering prescription drug costs. She planned to travel around the district Tuesday encouraging people to get to the polls.

In a recent campaign ad, Rockeymoore Cummings targeted the district’s Korean-speaking voters. The ad, in a Korean-language newspaper, featured her picture and emphasized her educational qualifications — she has a doctorate in political science — and her commitment to education and caring for senior citizens.

“Almost half of the state of Maryland is comprised of racial and ethnic ‘minority’ groups,” she said in a written statement. “I developed a good relationship with many leaders from these diverse communities when I was chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.”

Other candidates in the race include House of Delegates Majority Whip Talmadge Branch; Del. Terri Hill, a physician; community activist Saafir Rabb; university professor Paul Konka, and pulmonologist Dr. Mark Gosnell.

Eight Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination, including Liz Matory, who was the 2018 Republican nominee for the 2nd Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, and Kimberly Klacik, who runs a nonprofit focused on workforce development for disadvantaged women.

After Tuesday’s special primary, a special general election will be held April 28 to fill the rest of Cummings’ two-year term, which expires in January.

April 28 is also the date of the regular U.S. House primary. Candidates who want to win a full term of their own representing the 7th District must run in that race, as well.

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