Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., smiles after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that Edwards will become co-chair of the House Democrats’ Steering and Policy Committee with Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., during a news conference at the Capitol on Nov. 17, 2014. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Two national progressive groups will begin raising money and launch an effort to draft Rep. Donna F. Edwards to join the 2016 Senate race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee announced their decision in an e-mail to members Thursday, lauding Maryland’s first black congresswoman as a consistent progressive voice and “perfect fit” to follow Mikulski.

Edwards, 56, has not declared her candidacy publicly but has said she is considering a run in what is expected to be a crowded Democratic primary field. Her House colleague Chris Van Hollen made his bid public days after Mikulski announced her retirement.

“Maryland progressives are behind Donna,” read the message from Democracy for America. “That’s why, together, we’re getting behind Donna today.”

Edwards has a long-standing relationship with the liberal advocacy group. Democracy for America supported her first unsuccessful effort to unseat then-Rep. Albert Wynn in 2006. She ran again two years later on an anti-Iraq War platform and defeated the Democratic incumbent.

“We have been working with Donna and supported her since her first campaign,” said DFA communications director Neil Sroka, who noted that in an internal survey, nearly three-quarters of the group’s 20,000 Maryland members voted in favor of drafting Edwards. “We’ve seen her up close and in person.”

A spokesman for Edwards declined to comment.

In the PCCC’s e-mail to members, Carrie Biggs-Adams noted Edwards’s record of defending entitlements and criticizing the landmark Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which ruled that certain limits on campaign contributions were unconstitutional.

“Multiple good candidates may enter the race. I’m proud to stand with . . . many Maryland progressives who want Donna to be one of them,” the e-mail said. “But Donna needs to decide soon.”

Edwards won reelection in Maryland’s 4th District — which includes Prince George’s County and part of Anne Arundel County — three times while building a reputation as a protector of liberal values. Her vigorous advocacy has, at times, put her at odds with more moderate elements of the party.

A run for Senate would take the openly ambitious Edwards out of the running for House leadership. In recent years, she has sought to climb the ladder in Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s leadership ranks. She held a deputy role last year in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises money and recruits candidates for congressional elections.

But Edwards was passed over by Pelosi (Calif.) for the chairmanship for the 2016 election season.

Edwards’s weakness lies in fundraising — acknowledged by many party strategists as the reason behind Pelosi’s decision to not choose her for the DCCC job. But support from an independent committee could help her challenge an experienced fundraiser like Montgomery County’s Van Hollen.

She could also draw both black and liberal votes away from the congressman’s base in the Washington suburbs.

Still more than 18 months away, the election has yet to yield much more than speculation. Baltimore-area congressmen Elijah E. Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes as well as Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake have been named by many Democrats as possible candidates. But none has made a public announcement. Rep. John Delaney has said he is exploring a bid.

An Edwards announcement, meanwhile, would launch another round of speculation over who would succeed her. Well-known political names — including Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, Del. Michael Vaughn and Sen. C. Anthony Muse — have emerged as possibilities, according to multiple Maryland Democrats. Former county state’s attorney Glenn Ivey, who withdrew from a bid challenging Edwards in the 2012 primary, is also widely seen as a potential candidate.

Aides say Prince George’s County Council member Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale) is also considering a run.