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Six lessons from Maryland’s 7th Congressional District special primary election

Kweisi Mfume gives a victory speech at his primary election night party at The Forum in Baltimore.

Kweisi Mfume, a former U.S. congressman and NAACP leader, and Kimberly Klacik, who sparked President Donald Trump’s tweets vilifying Baltimore last summer, were the respective winners in the Democratic and Republican special primary elections Tuesday to replace Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died in October. Here are six lessons from their races.

Mfume has staying power in Baltimore

It has been nearly 25 years since Mfume last held elected office in Maryland — he represented the 7th District from 1987 through 1996, when he stepped down to lead the NAACP. And he unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in Maryland in 2006. Despite revelations that he left the NAACP in 2004 amid an allegation of sexual harassment and a rebuke from the National Organization for Women for promoting its decade-old endorsement of him, voters supported him in droves Tuesday.

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In Baltimore, he dominated the race over popular and well-known current officeholders, led by state Sen. Jill P. Carter, and candidates closely linked to Cummings, most notably his widow, former state Democratic Party chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings.

West Baltimore still owns the 7th District

Even after being gerrymandered to include parts of Howard and Baltimore counties, the district’s power remains centered in West Baltimore. Mfume has deep roots in West Baltimore, even though he now lives in an Inner Harbor condo. Klacik’s candidacy can also be traced to trash-strewn West Baltimore alleys, which she shared videos of on social media this summer. They prompted President Donald Trump to call the district “disgusting” and “infested” with rats.

State Del. Terri Hill of Howard County won more votes than Mfume in her home county, but it was not nearly enough to counter his commanding leads in Baltimore and Baltimore County. More than half of active Democratic voters in the district live in the city.

Traditional Baltimore political power structure remains strong

Mfume is a member of Baltimore’s old political guard, serving on the City Council before his tenure in Congress, and he received strong support from many of the city’s traditional sources of political power. He got endorsements from the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore, the Afro-American Newspapers and the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, and campaign donations from Baltimore attorney Billy Murphy and Morgan State University President David Wilson.

That the support propelled him to a win could be a lesson for the race for Baltimore mayor, which likely will be decided by the Democratic primary April 28. In that race, two members of the old guard, former Mayor Sheila Dixon and sitting Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young face both experienced and inexperienced candidates, including the youthful City Council President Brandon Scott, state Sen. Mary Washington, former Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah and a long list of activists and businesspeople.

A viral moment pays off

Klacik was a little-known personality before July, when Trump seized on the videos she posted to social media and discussed on Fox News. The notoriety his tweets brought to her was enough to propel her to a win.

She was the closest thing there was to a front-runner in the campaign, though she lives in Middle River, outside the 7th District.

Strong showings could simplify road map to Congress

The election calendar set after Cummings’ death suggested a perhaps confusing series of votes ahead. Tuesday’s vote was a special primary, with a special general election and the regularly scheduled primary election both being held April 28.

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Maya Rockeymoore Cummings speaks after losing the special primary election for the 7th District seat. She will continue to campaign for the April election.

But with the two nominees both winning more than 40% of the vote, some candidates in the special primary might reconsider an April rematch. Democrats Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and state Sen. Jill P. Carter pledged Tuesday night to continue their campaigns.

Under a newly passed state law, candidates who lost Tuesday can file to withdraw their names from the regular primary election ballot, though they have only until Thursday to decide.

Everybody loves a winner

At least four politicians who had once considered running for the 7th District seat after Cummings’ death, but then laid low in the race after opting out of it, were spotted on stage at Mfume’s victory party: former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, state Del. Nick Mosby and state Sen. Cory McCray.

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