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Mfume wins primary as he seeks to keep U.S. House seat he regained after Elijah Cummings’ death

Kweisi Mfume, Maryland’s newest congressman, won Tuesday’s Democratic primary to secure his hold on the Baltimore-area seat long held by his late friend, Elijah Cummings.

Baltimore-area U.S. Reps. John Sarbanes and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who are Democrats, and Andy Harris, a Republican, also won nominations to run for reelection in November. So did four other Democrats: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland and Reps. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County, Anthony Brown of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, and David Trone, whose district includes parts of Montgomery County as well as Western Maryland.

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Harris, who represents the Eastern Shore and a portion of Baltimore County, won his primary over conservative Jorge Delgado, a former economic policy adviser to U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican. Harris is seeking a sixth term in the 1st Congressional District.

Democrat Allison Galbraith, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2018 primary, was in a close race with Mia Mason, a 20-year military veteran, for the right to challenge Harris in November — even though Galbraith had withdrawn from the race.

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In a message to supporters, Galbraith said in April that “COVID-19 has created challenging circumstances for all of us, including campaigns,” and that she was “burnt out.” Galbraith had endorsed another candidate, nurse and small-business owner Jennifer Pingley, who trailed the other two Democrats.

Mfume, a 71-year-old Democrat, handily won a mostly vote-by-mail special election April 28 over Republican Kimberly Klacik to fill the remainder of Cummings’ two-year term. Mfume, who held the same congressional seat 24 years ago, was sworn in May 5 for the term that expires in January.

On Tuesday, Mfume advanced to the Nov. 3 general election to try to win a full term. As in a special primary in February, his challengers included state Sen. Jill P. Carter and Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, a former state Democratic Party chairperson and Cummings’ widow. Elijah Cummings died in October.

“We had hoped to be able to give this speech earlier in the evening, but we’re happy to give it now nonetheless,” Mfume said at his campaign headquarters, after waiting hours for election returns.

He said his election night celebration was tempered because people are “all still hurting from the senseless murder of George Floyd just eight days ago,” a reference to the Minneapolis man who died at the hands of police, provoking nationwide demonstrations.

Mfume also said he would use “science, data and common sense” to try to help end the coronavirus pandemic that has cost more than 100,000 lives nationally and ravaged the economy.

Mfume will again face Klacik, who defeated former 2nd Congressional District candidate Liz Matory and others.

The 7th Congressional District includes parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County.

Cummings’ memory loomed large over the race. Nicole Ross, 37, who voted in Northwest Baltimore, said she knew the late congressman from his many visits to her Emerson Village neighborhood as well as to her church and admired how he stood up to President Donald Trump after Trump made derisive remarks about Baltimore last year. She said she voted for Maya Cummings, his widow.

But Mfume, who spoke at Cummings’ funeral, is particularly well known in the district and won the backing of many of the city’s traditional sources of political power, including faith leaders and organized labor.

Trone, who defeated high school teacher Maxwell Bero to win nomination for a second term, said the election stood out because of the limitations necessitated by COVID-19. “Surreal," he said. “Not talking to voters because that’s not safe, not out shaking hands because that’s not safe.” But he applauded the mail-in system used statewide for the first time, saying it allows more people to vote and was “a good test run” for future elections.

The last Maryland congressman to lose reelection was Republican Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick County in 2012 — and he was defeated only after his district was redrawn by Democrats in Annapolis to include more Democratic voters. Nationally, House members’ reelection rate in 2018 was 91% — and it was 97% in the congressional election before that.

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Mfume left the House in 1996 to become president of the NAACP. Baltimore-born and raised, he chronicled his early life in a 1996 autobiography in which he described a misguided young man who quit school, fathered five children out of wedlock and ran with a gang.

The book recounted a street-corner “epiphany” one summer night nearly 50 years ago, which Mfume said began his transformation from an aimless punk in West Baltimore to an influential black leader. Mfume said he was in a craps game when he saw his mother — who had died of cancer more than seven years earlier — looking at him, first with sadness, then with love. Mfume, who is Baptist, describes it as a story of redemption and faith.

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