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Hoyer: Democrats Will Hold Maryland House Seats

In a week when several of his current and former colleagues are gearing up to run for Senate in his home state, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday he is content to remain on the sidelines for now.

Hoyer broke his silence on the emerging race to replace five-term Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), who announced Friday he would not seek re-election in 2006. Since then, Hoyer’s colleagues in the Free State Congressional delegation have been in a whirlwind of activity.

When asked about what role he’ll play in a potential Democratic Senate primary, Hoyer said “it is way too early” to say. But he was quick to add that all the possible candidates are “extremely well qualified” and would make excellent Senators.

Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume announced Monday that he would run for sure. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger on Tuesday announced the formation of a committee to explore a Senate candidacy, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen said he will form an exploratory committee in a matter of days. Reps. Benjamin Cardin and Elijah Cummings continue to ponder the race, while Rep. Albert Wynn took himself out of the running on Monday.

Hoyer, the dean of the Maryland delegation, wouldn’t rule out endorsing a particular Democrat down the road. But he said that if any of the four House Democrats decides to run for Senate, he has no fears about losing their seats to the GOP.

“I think every seat we have, we can win whether or not one of the incumbents decides to run for another office,” Hoyer said.

Several knowledgeable political sources said Van Hollen is the most likely to run, followed by Cardin and Ruppersberger. Those same sources suggested that Cummings will ultimately decline a bid given Mfume’s early presence in the race.

As for Hoyer’s role in a potentially bloody primary, one key Maryland Democratic source said the Minority Whip will keep his powder dry for now.

While Hoyer discussed his views of the Senate race in the Capitol on Tuesday, Ruppersberger was 59 miles away at a fire house in Cockeysville, making his announcement.

“I will draw on my experience as a Congressman and as [Baltimore] county executive while I explore the possibility of running for Senate,” he said.

In an interview, Ruppersberger said the main thing that could prevent him from making a Senate race is the possibility that he would forfeit his seat on the House Intelligence Committee if he lost. But he said he also sees his work on Intelligence as an asset if he makes the Senate race.

Van Hollen said Tuesday he will try to determine “whether I can get the political support around the state and raise the resources needed” to win.

The exploratory committee “will focus on the overall objective, which is to make sure the seat continues to be held by a strong Democrat,” he said.

At this early stage, Republicans have no one clamoring to run for Senate, though Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is the clear preference of national and state party leaders.

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