The loser of Maryland’s most heated Democratic primary race was a no-show at the party’s unity rally Thursday, following a contest that revealed racial and gender tensions among Democrats.
Rep. Donna F. Edwards, who fell short in her bid for a chance to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), did not appear at the event at a Marriott in Hyattsville, even though the chairman of the state party reached out to her directly with an invitation.
The congresswoman placed second behind Rep. Chris Van Hollen in a race that pitted a white, establishment candidate against an African American party maverick.
“Donna’s hurting a little bit, and you can understand why,” said Mikulski, who spoke with Edwards by phone before the event. “Donna Edwards has a great voice and a lot of verve. We need Donna. We know Donna wants to take a break now, but we want her to know that she will always be welcome at the Democratic table.”
Some Edwards supporters have readily switched their allegiance to Van Hollen. Prince George’s County resident Angele Reid, a 71-year-old retired teacher who voted for Edwards and attended Thursday’s event, wore a bright blue sticker bearing the congressman’s name.
“He was my number two,” she said with a laugh. “I wanted to see a black woman in the Senate, but since she’s not there, I have to give him my support, because we need the Democrats to be in there instead of the Republicans.”
Maryland Democrats said they sense momentum from the turnout — which was the highest in decades — at Tuesday’s primary. They say they have a strategy to defeat Republicans statewide in November: tie them to Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner for president who swept the primary with 54 percent of the Republican vote.
Van Hollen was quick to connect Trump to his next opponent, state House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (Baltimore County), saying after the rally that she and Trump share the same supporters.
“What we saw on Tuesday was that the Maryland Republican Party is the party of Donald Trump,” Van Hollen said. “The same people who supported my opponent are the people who were pushing Donald Trump to be president. I think Maryland will reject that whole worldview in a big way.”
Szeliga and Trump have vastly different styles and do not necessarily appeal to voters for the same reasons. But linking the two could make for an effective strategy, because of Trump’s highly unfavorable ratings.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month showed that 67 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the billionaire business mogul. In Maryland, Trump picked up just 236,623 votes in the GOP primary — compared with 533,247 for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and 444,262 for Van Hollen.
Still, Democrats acknowledge that they can’t take victory for granted. They learned that lesson again in 2014, when Republican businessman Larry Hogan defeated then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) by a wide margin in the gubernatorial race.
“The win in November is not guaranteed,” Mikulski warned her fellow Democrats.
Democrats must also defend Rep. John Delaney’s seat. The health-care financier, who self-funded much of his last campaign, came within 2,700 votes — out of 190,000 cast — of losing his 6th District seat to former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino (R) in 2014.
The state GOP has targeted Delaney’s district as a priority in November, predicting it will be competitive again this year. Democrats have a registration advantage of 44 percent to 32 percent in the district, but more than 100,000 independents are also on the voter rolls.
The challenger in that race is Republican Amie Hoeber, a former high-ranking Pentagon official during the Reagan administration who is making her first run for public office at age 74.
Delaney, 53, subtly highlighted their age difference Thursday night by stressing that his campaign represents “the politics of the future.”
He called himself a “progressive business person.”
“My values are rooted in the core progressive principles of opportunity for all, equality for all, investing in our people, investing in our country, and thinking about things that can really affect citizens, like climate change,” he said. “But I also understand probably better than anyone in Congress how the private economy of the United States works.”
Democrats also face the prospect of having to replace state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (Montgomery), who won the party’s nomination to replace Van Hollen in Maryland’s heavily Democratic 8th Congressional District.
Raskin defeated a host of Democratic challengers in the primary, including former news anchor Kathleen Matthews and businessman David Trone, who spent $12 million — the most of any U.S. House candidate in history. Raskin will face Frederick lawyer Dan Cox (R) in the general election.
Democrats are already discussing who should fill Raskin’s seat should he win in November. The possibilities include freshman state Del. William C. Smith Jr. (Montgomery), who is 33 and black; former gubernatorial candidate and state delegate Heather R. Mizeur, who is 43, white and gay; former Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin, who is 43 and black; and former Obama White House aide Will Jawando, a 33-year-old black lawyer who finished fifth behind Raskin in the primary.
Montgomery County’s Democrat Central Committee would ultimately make the decision.