What the heck is going on in the Maryland Senate race?

For such a small state, Maryland has been making a lot of news lately. From the Freddie Gray case to the riots to their unusual approach to finding new voters which we mentioned earlier today, they’re grabbing up a lot of headline space. But something’s in the political wind in the Old Line State recently which is hard to put your finger on. First they elected a GOP governor in 2014, sending shock waves through the Democratic establishment. And now, there’s something very peculiar taking place in their upcoming senate race. Barbara Mikulski has held that seat for nearly thirty years, but she recently announced her retirement. This set up a fight for the Democratic primary, which traditionally is the same as the general election there since the entire state is the property of their party with the anomalous exception of Hogan.

Two members of congress stepped up quickly as candidates, largely clearing the rest of the field. They were Chris Van Hollen of the 8th and Donna Edwards of the 4th. (Elijah Cummings was a heavy favorite but passed on the race just before the filing deadline.) Both Van Hollen and Edwards have led remarkably scandal free careers (all the more amazing being Maryland Democrats) and neither seems to have any major impediments to election. But their demographics couldn’t be further apart. Van Hollen’s district borders DC and is one of the richest (and whitest) sections of the state. Edwards, an African American, covers a vastly gerrymandered district with a majority black population. Given the current ebb and flow of racial politics in Baltimore, as well as across the nation in Democrat circles, it seems like she’d be a pretty sure bet, and she’s won all her previous races with 70 to 80 percent or more of the vote. (Van Hollen has done well also, but in the two most recent outings a Republican took more than a third of the vote.)

And yet Van Hollen has been holding a lead in the polls for months. Now, to make matters even more muddled, the Congressional Black Caucus has refused to endorse Edwards. (Politico)

The political action committee behind the Congressional Black Caucus passed on endorsing Rep. Donna Edwards in her Maryland Senate primary — a public snub of the African-American lawmaker who has a contentious relationship with many of her colleagues.

The CBC PAC voted late Thursday evening during a hastily called meeting to table the question of endorsing Edwards in her primary challenge against Rep. Chris Van Hollen, according to a half-dozen sources familiar with the meeting.

The endorsement is unlikely to be voted on again, multiple members of the PAC’s board said.

Passing on an endorsement for a fellow black caucus lawmaker in a competitive primary is unusual for the CBC PAC. Sources said the PAC felt uncomfortable giving Edwards a nod of support after hearing from local elected African-American officials in Maryland who support Van Hollen.

Van Hollen doesn’t just have the support of the CBC. He’s getting endorsements from prominent black Democrats in Maryland as well. This seems totally out of character for Maryland in 2016 when Edwards doesn’t really have any dings in her electoral armor from scandals or major flubs. After the election of the Governor in 2014, could the Democrats actually be worried about losing another state wide race? Have the conditions on the ground really shifted that much?

I’m not sure who they might be afraid of on the Republican side. The primary is a muddled mess, with 17 declared candidates on the ballot. They haven’t drawn any truly national level names, though they do have Kathy Szeliga, the Minority Whip from Baltimore County in the running. Still, there’s something strange taking place in Maryland. Could this actually be the first traditional Democratic stronghold to finally react to years of destructive management and test the waters of conservatism (at least a little bit) to see if things improve?