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With special primary less than month away, here are five things to know about the race to succeed the late Baltimore Rep. Elijah Cummings. Cummings is shown in this file photo taken in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington.
With special primary less than month away, here are five things to know about the race to succeed the late Baltimore Rep. Elijah Cummings. Cummings is shown in this file photo taken in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kenneth K. Lam)

It’s a rush to a special primary for the 32 candidates — 24 Democrats and eight Republicans — in the race for the open 7th Congressional District seat long held by the late Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore.

Cummings, who had cancer, died Oct. 17. The primary is scheduled for Feb. 4 — less than one month away — with a special general election April 28 to fill the rest of Cummings’ two-year term.

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Confusingly enough, 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, which would start in January 2021, must run in that race, as well.

Here are five things to know about the special primary. To learn more, check out the candidates on The Baltimore Sun’s voter guide.

Little time, few debates

With such a compressed campaign, organizations are finding it complicated to schedule debates.

And any debate organizer immediately faces a logistical problem: Which candidates get invited? The field is particularly unwieldy on the Democratic side.

“We can’t have 32 candidates,” said Hassan Giordano, who is organizing a debate to be livestreamed from Baltimore on Jan. 20 from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. Giordano, a communications consultant and political strategist, said the debate would be available on the Facebook page of his DMVDaily.news site and streamed at valuemyvote2020.com.

Giordano said he selected seven Democrats to participate who received the most votes in an informal online survey: House of Delegates Majority Whip Talmadge Branch; state Sen. Jill P. Carter; Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Cummings’ widow and former chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party; University of Baltimore law professor F. Michael Higginbotham; Del. Terri L. Hill, a physician; former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, and community activist Saafir Rabb. He said most have agreed to participate.

He said none of the Republican candidates finished in the top seven.

Other organizations may schedule additional debates or forums, although time is running short.

No early voting

Marylanders have grown accustomed to the option of choosing which day they will vote, but early voting won’t be available for the special primary.

Regulations in place for years specify that early voting does not apply for special elections, according to state elections board spokeswoman Donna Duncan.

The deadline to register to vote in the special primary is Jan. 14.

The deadline for obtaining absentee ballots by mail is Jan. 28, and by Jan. 31 for online.

Maryland congressional primary elections are closed. That means voters can only participate in primaries involving their own party affiliation.

Campaign fundraising not yet public

Campaign fundraising can be a measure of a candidate’s viability. The Federal Election Commission requires candidates to file reports on donations, expenses and cash on hand.

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But the deadline for the first report is not until Jan. 23 — less than two weeks before the primary.

One candidate — University of Baltimore law professor F. Michael Higginbotham — has said he anticipates it will take about $1 million to run an effective campaign, including television, radio and print advertisements. A Higginbotham aide said the candidate recently loaned his campaign $500,000.

Interesting alliances

Some of the candidates are getting boosts from interesting places.

Elijah Cummings’ daughters are supporting one of the congressman’s longtime staffers. Cummings’ oldest daughter, Jennifer, wrote in a statement that she and her sister, Adia, are endorsing Harry Spikes.

“Our father often said of himself that he was ‘an ordinary man called to an extraordinary mission,’ and Harry embodies that same spirit," she wrote.

Meanwhile, Rockeymoore Cummings, the widow of the late representative, is receiving assistance from Emily’s List, an organization that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.

Where to vote

All Baltimore County and Howard County schools will be closed Feb. 4 because of the special primary. Many of the schools in those school systems are 7th District polling places.

The 7th Congressional District covers portions of Howard and Baltimore counties, as well as areas of the city of Baltimore.

The Baltimore City Public Schools system plans to close only the schools in the 7th District. A list of city schools to be closed is available at this link.

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