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Chaos Comes in Maryland’s Next Open Senate Race | Farm Team

Maryland’s blue-as-the-Chesapeake politics means incumbents are rarely ejected from office. As a result, the state’s teeming political talent is backed up in lower offices.

“We are lucky in Maryland to be represented by a deep bench of talented, hardworking and dedicated politicians,” said CR Wooters, a former aide to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “Whenever any of the statewide or federal offices are open, the voters are virtually guaranteed a menu of qualified candidates.”

This cycle, local political operatives are focused on the race to succeed Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. But a future open Senate seat — perhaps in 2016 or later — would blow open Maryland’s political bottleneck.

That’s because Maryland has had one open-seat Senate race in the past quarter-century. In 2006, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin won his first term and cruised to re-election six years later.

His colleague, Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, is up for re-election in 2016. Most Maryland Democratic operatives remain nearly certain the 77-year-old Senate Appropriations chairwoman has no plans to retire.

But if a Senate seat ever opens up, Katy bar the door. Every House Democrat from Maryland would look at running with two likely exceptions: House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. The remaining handful of House Democrats would consider running in an open Senate race, including Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, John Delaney, Donna Edwards, John Sarbanes and Van Hollen.

Van Hollen, especially, would face a major decision: Does he want to be speaker or a senator? A former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, Van Hollen is an ally of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. He’s made inroads with his colleagues to possibly succeed Pelosi some day, but Democrats also mention him in nearly every conversation about an open Senate seat.

Like Van Hollen, Edwards is a frequently mentioned Senate contender. She’s moved quickly up the ranks at the DCCC, despite her poor fundraising. She has unquestionably strong ties to labor and is one of the few female political players in Maryland.

What’s more, black Democrats in Maryland have yearned to hold a Senate seat. In addition to Edwards, Cummings could also run with a strong base in Baltimore. If the pair ran against each other in a crowded field, they would neutralize the black vote.

“Donna and Elijah have to have a serious conversation as to whether there’s a real possibility that two African-Americans could run against each other in a Democratic primary without mutually destroying each other,” a Maryland Democratic operative said.

There is also Sarbanes, the son of former Sen. Paul Sarbanes. In addition to his well-known last name, Sarbanes has the 3rd District, geographically the best launching pad for a statewide run.

The district meanders through several counties and, more importantly, covers the Baltimore and Washington media markets. The district is so disjointed that Roll Call deemed it one of the “top five ugliest congressional districts” in the country last cycle.

Finally, even though Delaney is a freshman, his ability to self-finance his campaigns makes him an obvious contender for senate.

There are several Senate contenders outside of congressional politics, too. Democrats named state Attorney General Doug Gansler, Del. Heather Mizeur (both are currently running for governor) and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

If any of the aforementioned House members ran for Senate, their newly open districts would bring a flood of candidates. The state has seven solid Democratic districts, plus one Republican district.

• If Ruppersberger leaves Congress, Democrats name state Sen. James Brochin as a serious contender for the 2nd District.

• In the 4th District, Democrats pointed to Del. Aisha Braveboy (who is currently running for attorney general), Del. Melony Griffith and Montgomery Councilmember Valerie Ervin as potential Edwards successors. Ervin is an Edwards ally.

• In Cummings’ 7th District, Democrats say every prominent black leader in Baltimore would look at running, including Rawlings-Blake and state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden.

• When Hoyer leaves the 5th District, a black politician would be in a strong position to inherit his seat.

• Given the sprawling composition of the 3rd District, ambitious pols from every corner of the state would consider it if Sarbanes leaves. “Virtually anybody in the state could run for the 3rd,” one Maryland Democratic consultant said.

• Republicans could make a play for the recently redrawn 6th District, based in Montgomery County. Until then, Delaney’s fortune might prove too daunting. If Delaney leaves, Democrats mentioned resigning state Sen. Rob Garagiola, who lost to Delaney in the 2012 primary, or former Del. Mark Shriver as possible candidates.

• If Van Hollen leaves the House, it will unleash a flood of contenders. “Good God. Who doesn’t run?” one Maryland Democratic consultant asked. Democrats named 13 future potential contenders for Van Hollen’s seat: state Sen. Jamie Raskin, state House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, state Comptroller Peter Franchot, Del. Bill Frick, Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, former Del. Cheryl Kagan, state Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, former Hill staffer Tom Manatos, Mizeur, Del. Luiz Simmons and former state party Chairwoman Susie Turnbull.

Given Democrats’ dominance in the state, the GOP is focusing on building its party from the bottom. There is little serious talk about viable statewide candidates.

Currently, Rep. Andy Harris holds the most influential post of any Republican in Maryland by representing the Eastern Shore in the 1st District. If he ever moves on, Republicans named Dels. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio and Kathy Szeliga as possible successors.

Farm Team is a weekly, state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.