Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the Baltimore County Democrat who had been exploring a Senate bid next year, said yesterday that he will not run, citing "much unfinished work for me left in the House."
"The timing just isn't there for me," Ruppersberger said in an interview, noting that he is just beginning a second term in the House and is heavily involved in his work on the Intelligence Committee. "Campaigning for me would be 24/7."
Ruppersberger announced last month that he was establishing an exploratory committee to decide whether to run for the seat that Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) is leaving in January after five terms.
In a statement, Ruppersberger pointed to three others who he said are "highly qualified, potential Democratic candidates" for Sarbanes's seat: former congressman and former NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume, who has already announced his bid; and Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.
Ruppersberger said he met last week with Cardin, who has recently signaled to supporters that he is likely to run, to discuss their respective political futures.
In his statement, Ruppersberger described Cardin as "a well-respected, bright, veteran legislator who has a broad grasp of a diverse number of issues that will be extremely helpful if he is elected to the Senate."
Ruppersberger said Van Hollen has also told him he is actively exploring a bid. Ruppersberger described Van Hollen as "one of the hardest-working young leaders of our party."
And Mfume, he said, "is a gifted speaker who possesses diverse leadership experience."
"I know them all, and they're all friends," said Ruppersberger, whose congressional district covers parts of Anne Arundel, Harford and Baltimore counties and some of the city of Baltimore.
Ruppersberger said he has no immediate plans to endorse any potential candidate.
The early jockeying among Democrats has included Van Hollen's recent hiring of Michael Morrill, a veteran campaign operative and staff member on Capitol Hill and in Annapolis.
Mfume, Van Hollen and Cardin also made recent appearances in Annapolis to chat with state lawmakers as the 2005 session of the General Assembly wound down.
On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele has said he is looking at entering the race but has announced no timetable for a decision.