Van Hollen Says He Won't Run for Senate

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) had $1 million on hand for a possible bid.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) had $1 million on hand for a possible bid. (By Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)
By Tim Craig and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Rep. Chris Van Hollen ended months of speculation yesterday by declaring that he will not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate next year, saying he wants to focus instead on raising his family and electing more Democrats to Congress.

Van Hollen (D-Md.), who had $1 million on hand for a possible bid, said he came to that conclusion while on vacation with his wife and three children in the Poconos over the Fourth of July weekend.

"This was a decision I struggled with," Van Hollen said. "I believe we could have waged an energetic and ultimately successful campaign, but I believe it was the right decision."

Van Hollen's announcement caps a behind-the-scenes effort by several top Democrats to keep him out of the race to avoid an expensive free-for-all for the Democratic nomination.

In March, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) announced that he would retire at the end of his term, creating the first open Senate seat in Maryland in 20 years.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) quickly jumped into the race for the Democratic nomination. The nominee is widely expected to face Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who is being wooed heavily by national GOP leaders. Steele has formed an exploratory committee.

Van Hollen spent the past four months raising money and traveling the state to gauge his support.

Although Van Hollen would have entered the race with a strong base of Montgomery County and liberal supporters, Cardin's campaign took an unusually aggressive posture. The Baltimore area congressman rolled out several dozen endorsements and raised more than $1 million in his first nine weeks as a candidate, according to his campaign.

"I think from Day One, Cardin's aim has been to create a head-on situation against Mfume," said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Inc., a research and polling firm.

If Van Hollen had run for Senate, he would have had to curtail his role as co-chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's 2006 candidate recruitment effort. And as a father of three children ages 9 to 14, he said he worried about the "stress" a 15-month campaign would have on his family.

"I didn't want to look back years from now and regret that decision," said Van Hollen, who represents half of Montgomery and a small part of Prince George's County.

Van Hollen was counseled by some senior members of the party, including state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Calvert) and U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the dean of the state's congressional delegation, that there would likely be other opportunities if he took a pass on the race.

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