Maryland state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) announced Wednesday that he is considering a primary challenge next year to U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.).
Muse, an African American minister who was reelected to a second term last year, told radio host Larry Young of WOLB (1010 AM) in Baltimore 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 Washington 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 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 lately about 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 he is 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: “Senator 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 with members of his party, making it unclear how much appetite there would be for a primary challenge.
A May 2010 Washington Post poll found that 48 percent of registered voters in Maryland approved of the job that Cardin was doing, 21 percent disapproved and 31 percent had no opinion. Among Democrats, Cardin had a 65 percent approval rating, and just 8 percent disapproved.
Muse noted that in 2006, when Cardin was first elected to the U.S Senate, a strong primary campaign was run by former congressman Kweisi Mfume, another African American 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 most liberal senator, 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 an important voice on foreign policy.
Among Republicans, former Secret Service agent Daniel Bongino, a political novice, has been the most active potential challenger to Cardin in 2012. Former Queen Anne’s County commissioner Eric Wargotz (R), who lost to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) by a wide margin in 2010, is considering a bid against Cardin, as is state Del. Patrick L. 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.
As a state senator, Muse’s interests have included efforts to expand financial literacy, protect domestic violence victims and provide more rights to noncustodial parents. He has also been heavily involved in issues affecting Prince George’s and his district, including attempts to revitalize Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington. He sponsored legislation in 2010 to legalize gambling on card games at the horse track. It passed the Senate but died in the House of Delegates.
Muse, a member of the Finance Committee, 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 of Ark of Safety Christian Church in Upper Marlboro.