Van Hollen de­feats Szeliga

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By John Fritze El­lie Sil­ver­man and John Meils con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle. john.fritze@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jfritze

Rep. Chris Van Hollen won Mary­land’s open Se­nate seat Tues­day, cap­ping a nearly two-year cam­paign in which the seven-term Demo­cratic law­maker ar­gued that his abil­ity to nav­i­gate a po­lar­ized Congress would en­able him to carry on the le­gacy of his pop­u­lar pre­de­ces­sor.

The 57-year-old Mont­gomery County law­maker, the son of a Bal­ti­more fam­ily, will suc­ceed Demo­cratic Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski, the 30-year in­cum­bent who stunned Mary­land’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment last year when she an­nounced she would not seek a sixth term.

Aided by the un­pop­u­lar­ity of Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump in Mary­land and Democrats’ 2-1 reg­is­tra­tion ad­van­tage in the state, Van Hollen cruised to vic­tory over Repub­li­can Del. Kathy Szeliga with­out re­ly­ing on much ad­ver­tis­ing or many ral­lies.

In a vic­tory speech, Van Hollen laid out pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion, build­ing the econ­omy and get­ting big money out of pol­i­tics.

Mary­lan­ders need to unite “be­hind the com­mon pur­pose of try­ing to make sure ev­ery Mary­lan­der is treated with dig­nity and treated with re­spect and has an op­por­tu­nity to have a fair shake in Amer­ica,” he told sup­port­ers at an elec­tion night party in Sil­ver Spring. “That’s what brings this ex­tended fam­ily to­gether as we move for­ward.”

Van Hollen, who served 12 years in the Gen­eral Assem­bly before he was elected to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in 2002, will en­ter the Se­nate at a par­tic­u­larly pre­car­i­ous mo­ment in U.S. pol­i­tics, fol­low­ing a di­vi­sive pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that ex­posed deep rifts within both ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Democrats had hoped to take back the Se­nate ma­jor­ity that they lost to Repub­li­cans in 2014, but the out­come of sev­eral close races re­mained un­cer­tain late Tues­day.

Van Hollen’s cam­paign fo­cused on broad Demo­cratic themes, in­clud­ing “ac­cel­er­at­ing eco­nomic growth,” ex­pand­ing early-child­hood ed­u­ca­tion and min­i­miz­ing stu­dent debt.

Partly be­cause the race was never con­sid­ered com­pet­i­tive, he was rarely pinned down on how he would ac­com­plish those goals, or pay for them.

But he also ran on a record that in­cludes pass­ing the na­tion’s first manda­tory trig­ger lock law in An­napo­lis and over­haul­ing the col­lege loan in­dus­try in Wash­ing­ton. He is liked by Demo­cratic lead­ers, and has re­ceived praise from Repub­li­cans such as House Speaker Paul Ryan for be­ing an hon­est bro­ker.

Such bi­par­ti­san af­fir­ma­tion is in­creas­ingly rare in Wash­ing­ton.

“Chris Van Hollen is just a solid, well­known leg­is­la­tor,” said Ken McMahill, a 77-year-old Sil­ver Spring man. “He’s got a lot of in­flu­ence even this early in his ca­reer. I’d rather have some­body who could wield some Rep. Chris Van Hollen was elected to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in 2002 af­ter serv­ing 12 years in the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly. In his vic­tory speech, Van Hollen iden­ti­fied his pri­or­i­ties in the Se­nate, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tional and eco­nomic im­prove­ments. in­flu­ence.”

Van Hollen was born in Karachi, Pak­istan, to a fa­ther who be­came an am­bas­sador to Sri Lanka in the 1970s and a mother who was an in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst for the State De­part­ment and the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency. He worked for Repub­li­can Sen. Charles McC. Mathias and Demo­cratic Gov. Wil­liam Don­ald Schae­fer.

In Congress, he has been a lead­ing spokesman for his party on fis­cal is­sues, serv­ing as the top Demo­crat on the House Bud­get Com­mit­tee and a hand­ful of pan­els that tried — mostly with­out suc­cess — to find bi­par­ti­san agree­ment on spend­ing and taxes.

While the gen­eral elec­tion was not much of a con­test, the Demo­cratic pri­mary in April cap­tured na­tional head­lines — and drew White House in­volve­ment on Van Hollen’s be­half.

Rep. Donna F. Edwards of Prince Ge­orge’s County tried to use Van Hollen’s record against him, paint­ing him as an in­sider who was out of touch with con­stituents.

Days before the pri­mary elec­tion, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion took the un­usual step of pub­licly crit­i­ciz­ing a tele­vi­sion ad paid for by a su­per PAC that sup­ported Edwards.

Van Hollen won the nom­i­na­tion by more than 14 points.

Af­ter she lost, Edwards, an African- GOP can­di­date Del. Kathy Szeliga greets Ed Neese, a for­mer Gam­brills res­i­dent who now lives in South Carolina. Szeliga will keep her seat in the Gen­eral Assem­bly. Amer­i­can woman, ques­tioned Democrats’ com­mit­ment to mi­nor­ity and women vot­ers — rais­ing un­com­fort­able ques­tions for a party that has drawn much of its sup­port from those con­stituen­cies.

Edwards ul­ti­mately en­dorsed Van Hollen but never stood on a stage with him.

If Rep. John De­laney of Po­tomac also wins in Mary­land’s 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, the state will send an all-male del­e­ga­tion to Wash­ing­ton for the first time in 46 years.

Szeliga emerged from a 14-way pri­mary in April and picked up on many of the same themes Edwards pre­sented. The Bal­ti­more County woman de­scribed Van Hollen as an in­sider who raised mil­lions of dol­lars from spe­cial in­ter­ests. And she lamented the pos­si­bil­ity of an all-male Mary­land del­e­ga­tion.

Democrats say Szeliga ran a solid cam­paign, stronger than most re­cent GOP Se­nate nom­i­nees.

Cur­tis Wink said Szeliga’s out­sider mes­sage was ap­peal­ing. The 80-year-old Ur­bana man said he is most con­cerned about Congress pro­tect­ing the con­sti­tu­tional right to bear arms, and also do­ing some­thing to stop il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

“We’ve seen a lot of pres­i­dents and politi­cians come and go,” Wink said. “I’ve come up with the idea that if you want to change things, don’t vote for the peo­ple who are in there.”

But Szeliga faced head winds from the top of the ticket in the form of Trump, who failed to gain trac­tion in Mary­land.

Szeliga, the mi­nor­ity whip in the House of Delegates, will keep her seat in the Gen­eral Assem­bly. se Helms re­tired,” said Demo­crat Mike Ped­neau, a re­tired men­tal health worker in Raleigh, N.C., re­fer­ring to his state’s arch­con­ser­va­tive se­na­tor, who died in 2008.

“It’s got­ten more brit­tle,” Ped­neau said. “I’d al­most rather have the other side win it if meant an end to grid­lock.”

Repub­li­cans be­gan the elec­tion cy­cle with a built-in dis­ad­van­tage. The GOP was forced to de­fend 24 seats ver­sus 10 for the Democrats, and the party’s dif­fi­cul­ties were com­pounded when vot­ers picked Trump as their nom­i­nee.

His many con­tro­ver­sial and in­sult­ing state­ments forced Repub­li­can can­di­dates to ei­ther de­fend or con­demn their pres­i­den­tial stan­dard-bearer, an­tag­o­niz­ing vot­ers which­ever they chose. Some re­pu­di­ated Trump. Oth­ers con­torted them­selves by say­ing they would vote for the nom­i­nee but not en­dorse his can­di­dacy.

In the House, Repub­li­cans held a 247-188 ma­jor­ity, the largest for ei­ther party since the 1930s.

To re­gain con­trol, which they lost in 2010, Democrats needed a gain of 30 seats, a num­ber that seemed far be­yond their reach given dis­trict lines that fa­vor sit­ting law­mak­ers and shel­ter most in­cum­bents from se­ri­ous chal­lenge.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

PAUL W. GILLE­SPIE/BAL­TI­MORE SUN MEDIA GROUP

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