Maryland Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) announced Wednesday morning that he is considering a primary challenge next year against U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.).
Muse, an African American minister who was re-elected to a second term last year, told Baltimore’s WOLB radio host Larry Young that he has formed an exploratory committee for the contest.
"I want to represent the voiceless," Muse said. "I'm watching folks hurt."
"I love this country. ... I know we can do better."
In an interview with the Post, Muse said he was “very serious about this. If I go out and find the support is there, I’ll move forward.”
Muse said he believes there is a void in the U.S. Senate when it comes to several issues important to him, including improving education for low-income children, reducing home foreclosures and curtailing U.S. involvement abroad.
“Nobody has talked about lately these wars and bringing our soldiers home,” Muse said.
He added that “there is something to be said about the fact that we don’t have an African American serving in the United States Senate.”
Muse said his bid his not inspired by any particular animus against Cardin. “I like Cardin. He’s a nice person,” Muse said.
In response to Muse’s announcement, Cardin campaign spokeswoman Shelly Hettleman said: “Sen. Cardin looks forward to talking with Maryland voters in campaign 2012 about how he has fought for them to create jobs and improve the economy."
Cardin has not been a flashy senator, but he appears to be broadly popular within his party, making it unclear how much appetite there would be for a primary challenge.
A May 2010 Washington Post poll of Maryland found that 48 percent of registered voters approved of the job Cardin was doing, while 21 percent disapproved and 31 percent had no opinion. Among Democrats, Cardin had a 65 percent approval rating, while just 8 percent disapproved.
Muse noted that in 2006, when Cardin was first elected to the U.S Senate, he faced a close primary challenge from Kweisi Mfume, another AfricanAmerican candidate, who raised far less money than Cardin.
In the primary, Cardin finished atop a crowded Democratic field, with 43.7 percent of the vote. Mfume was close behind, with 40.5 percent.
Cardin went on to win the general election over then-Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R), 54.2 percent to 44.2 percent.
Since then, there has been little daylight between Cardin, the Obama administration and Senate Democratic leaders. In both 2010 and 2009, National Journal magazine rated Cardin as tied for the most liberal member of the Senate, based on his voting record.
As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, Cardin has been active on tax, trade and health care issues – particularly the latter. He has pushed, so far without success, for adoption of a comprehensive bill to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. And Cardin, an outspoken advocate for Israel, has worked to become a key voice on foreign policy issues.
Among Republicans, former Secret Service agent and political novice Daniel Bongino has been the most active challenger to Cardin in 2012. Former Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Eric Wargotz (R), who lost to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) by a wide margin in 2010, is mulling a bid against Cardin, as is state Del. Patrick McDonough (R-Baltimore County).
Challengers from either party will have to overcome Cardin’s financial head start. As of June 30 Cardin had $1.8 million in his campaign account.
Muse’s focus in the Senate has include efforts to expand financial literacy, protect domestic violence victims and provide more rights to noncustodial parents. He has also been heavily involved in local issues affecting Prince George’s and his district, including attempts to revitalize Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington. He sponsored legislation in 2010 that would have legalized gambling on card games at the horse track. It passed the Senate but died in the House of Delegates.
A member of the Finance Committee, Muse has shown a willingness to buck Gov. Martin O’Malley’s agenda at times. He opposed an attempt by O’Malley (D) last session to speed development of the offshore wind industry, citing concerns about the upfront cost to electricity ratepayers. “Frankly, I don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze,” Muse wrote on his Web site.
Muse is the founder and senior pastor at Ark of Safety Christian Church in Upper Marlboro.
Cardin has been in public life for more than four decades, starting with his election to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1966. He ascended to Speaker in 1979 and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986, where he served until moving over to the U.S. Senate in 2007.