Van Hollen wins Se­nate seat, will suc­ceed Mikul­ski


The Baltimore Sun

— 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 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’ two-to-one reg­is­tra­tion ad­van­tage in the state, Van Hollen cruised to vic­tory over Repub­li­can Del. Kathy Szeliga with­out re­ly­ing on much ad­ver­tis­ing or many ral­lies.

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



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 track 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, but 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, well-known 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 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 elec­tion, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion took the un­usual step of pub­licly crit­i­ciz­ing a tele­vi­sion ad paid for a su­per PAC that sup­ported Ed­wards.

Van Hollen won the nom­i­na­tion by more than 14 points.

Af­ter she lost, Ed­wards, an African-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 very 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, and 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 head­winds from the top of the ticket in the form of Trump, who failed to gain trac­tion in Mary­land.

When Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan came out against the New York busi­ness­man, it put down-bal­lot can­di­dates in an awk­ward spot: Op­pose the state’s pop­u­lar gov­er­nor, or write off a large por­tion of the Repub­li­can base.

Szeliga — and the other Repub­li­can can­di­dates run­ning for fed­eral of­fice in Mary­land this year — chose to sup­port Trump. And at ev­ery turn, Van Hollen made sure vot­ers knew about it.

Szeliga, the mi­nor­ity whip in the House of Del­e­gates, will keep her seat in the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

Van Hollen, who lives in Kens­ing­ton, will be the first Mary­land sen­a­tor to hail from the Washington sub­urbs since 1913 — the lat­est in­di­ca­tion of a decades-long de­mo­graphic shift that has moved the state’s po­lit­i­cal cen­ter away from Baltimore and to­ward Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties.

Van Hollen, a grad­u­ate of Swarth­more Col­lege with de­grees in public pol­icy from Har­vard Univer­sity and law from Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, is mar­ried and has three chil­dren.

The race also fea­tured Green Party can­di­date Mar­garet Flow­ers, a physi­cian who sought to of­fer vot­ers a choice be­yond the ma­jor par­ties, but who strug­gled to gain re­sources and at­ten­tion.

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