U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Friday endorsed Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III in his bid for the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor — a high-profile boost in a crowded primary race.
"We have a lot of other great candidates on the Democratic side, but I think Rushern Baker will be the best governor for the state of Maryland and is in the best position to succeed in this race in the general election," he said.
Baker said he was honored to receive the endorsement of his former General Assembly colleague in the General Assembly. "I have known and worked with Chris for nearly 30 years and am proud to call him not only a colleague but a friend," the Democrat said in a statement.
Baker backed Van Hollen, the party favorite, over the then-U. S. Rep. Donna Edwards, a fellow Prince George's County elected official, in the Democratic primary race last year to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D), who retired.
His choice to endorse Van Hollen over Edwards, who was vying to become the state's first black senator, angered many African Americans in Prince George's County.
Because of the blowback Baker received, many expected Van Hollen to weigh in early to back Baker.
Van Hollen's endorsement could prove to be a blow to the gubernatorial campaign of state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., who is from Montgomery County, Van Hollen's home turf.
"Rich Madaleno is a great person, great leader and he's a great candidate," Van Hollen said Friday. "I made my decisions based on the person who I think is best capable of becoming a leader and governor right now. Rushern Baker not only has the experience from the state legislature, but he's been a county executive."
Mileah Kromer, a political-science professor at Goucher College, said Van Hollen's endorsement is a "big get" for Baker.
"This isn't Cory Booker or Bernie Sanders," Kromer said, noting the endorsements received by former NAACP president and gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous. "This is our senator. This is Maryland."
Kromer said Van Hollen brings high name recognition to Baker, who is working to raise his profile across the state.
Baker has also received the endorsement of seven members of the state legislature, including Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George's), and seven mayors in Prince George's County.
Last month, a Mason-Dixon poll declared Baker to be the strongest contender in a hypothetical one-on-one matchup against the popular incumbent, Gov. Larry Hogan (R), whose high approval ratings and sizable campaign war chest make him a formidable opponent even in a strongly blue state.
The Democratic field is crowded, with eight candidates: Baker, Jealous, who has a raft of endorsements of his own; Kamenetz; Madaleno; policy consultant Maya Rockeymoore Cummings; tech entrepreneur Alec Ross; attorney Jim Shea; and Krishanti Vignarajah, a former policy director for Michelle Obama.