Lise Van Susteren, a Bethesda psychiatrist, joined Maryland's Senate race yesterday, presenting herself as a political outsider interested in fixing the health care system and willing to take bold stands on social issues.
"I am a citizen fed up with the way the country is headed," Van Susteren said in Baltimore at the first of two news conferences touting her Democratic candidacy. "While they may be well intentioned, I have lost my confidence that the professional politicians can turn things around. The U.S. Senate needs to be shaken up, and I am not afraid to do it."
Van Susteren, 54, the sister of Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren, enters the race to win the seat of retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) next year as an acknowledged underdog. The Democratic primary has already drawn two established politicians, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and former congressman and NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume, as well as community activist A. Robert Kaufman. All are from Baltimore. Several more candidates could soon join the race.
Van Susteren said that her work as a psychiatrist has exposed her to "real people with real problems every day for the last 25 years" and that she is seeking elected office to address issues beyond her reach.
During her speech, Van Susteren voiced staunch support for abortion rights, said the government "has no business telling adults who they can and cannot marry" and said she holds "a special contempt" for politicians who have blocked the expansion of embryonic stem cell research. She also called the Iraq war "a terrible mistake" and said she would work in Washington to reduce school class sizes.
Though a first-time candidate, Van Susteren has surrounded herself with veteran aides, including Tad Devine, a strategist who worked on Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential bid, and Chris Black, a former Boston Globe reporter who handled press for Teresa Heinz Kerry.
Devine and Black were present at yesterday's event in Baltimore, as were Van Susteren's celebrity sister, her three daughters and her husband, Jonathan L. Kempner, president and chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington.
Van Susteren moved to Maryland from the District less than two years ago, and the skepticism with which some view her candidacy was underscored by a reporter's question. He asked her how many counties Maryland has. Van Susteren smiled and provided the correct answer: 23.