For about four days a week, from now until April 11, a major obstacle will be out of Democrat Kathleen Matthews’ way as she runs for her party’s nomination in Maryland’s 8th District, a primary contest that could well decide the successor to outgoing Rep. Chris Van Hollen.
That is because state Sen. Jamie Raskin – the Democrat who polling and Maryland Democratic operatives say is her chief rival among six others running for this open seat – will be spending more and more time in Annapolis during the 90-day legislative session that ends only two weeks before election day. “I was obviously aware from the beginning of the race that I’d be going back to Annapolis,” Raskin, the Maryland Senate’s Democratic whip, said in an interview with Roll Call. “I will not be able to knock on as many doors as before, but I’m spending every free minute in the evening and on the weekends out campaigning.”
During the legislative session, Raskin said he has “turned down a lot of smaller bills” this session to focus on his campaign and on issues of larger policy consequence, particularly one that would prevent terror suspects from purchasing firearms in Maryland and another that would require the use of ignition interlock devices in all cases of drunk driving.
With her opponent partially off the field, Matthews said she plans to spend every free minute of her own free time connecting with voters — and then some. On Saturday, she re-launched a door-to-door operation, starting in voter-rich Bethesda, with just 101 days until primary day. The district, which Van Hollen is vacating to run for an open Senate seat, runs from Montgomery County’s border with D.C. north to the Pennsylvania line.
“For me, it is really important to have that grassroots effort, in the same way I was connected with them as a television reporter, doing interviews and talking to them on camera,” she said in an interview, pointing to her three decades at ABC-7 in Washington.
But while she and her campaign are touting their voter outreach, Matthews – the well-connected former Marriott executive whose spouse, Chris Matthews, is a prominent anchor on MSNBC – also knows the power of paid media. Her campaign purchased a small television ad buy in August around the first Republican debate, a move that earned them a great deal of free media, too, propelling her campaign in front of even more voters and affluent donors.
Last week, she went on-air again with a radio commercial on a D.C. drive-time radio station, touting her support of President Barack Obama’s gun policy proposals.
Aside from her self-professed passion about the issue, the gun issue is also ripe with political opportunity. On one hand, the issue is “representative of the political gridlock and hyper-partisanship people are really frustrated with,” she said. On the other, it is one she said she has had unique experience with as a television reporter who covered the beltway sniper crisis and other shootings across town.
“I also think I can bring some of my communication skills and my storytelling to this issue. One of the ways we’re going to break the partisanship is to show people the human cost,” she said. “Every member of Congress has people in their district who have died by gun violence.”
The issue also gives her a chance to show some progressive might in a race where Raskin, who has served in the state Senate since 2006, can roll off a litany of Democratic achievements – from his involvement with legislative efforts to enact marriage rights for gay couples to ending the Maryland death penalty.
“I’m an effective progressive legislator with a decades worth of proven experience,” he said. “Nobody has to guess what I stand for.”
In his view, that “proven” record is why he has earned the endorsements of prominent county leaders and many of his fellow state legislators. Only one member of the Maryland delegation — Rep. John Sarbanes, has endorsed. He is supporting Raskin.
Matthews, meanwhile, has secured support from national groups, including EMILY’s List, as well as a number of federal lawmakers. In her campaign’s fundraising report, which will be released at the end of the month, Matthews said she has received contributions from California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.
“The endorsements that Jamie has are not the people who have experience in this Congress,” she said. “There are certainly prominent Maryland politicians behind him, but to get endorsements from people who know how to be effective in this Congress says something.”
Raskin said his time in Annapolis over the next several weeks will say something, too.
“This is another way to reinforce my policy values and commitments with my constituents and the broader public,” he said. “They know that I am an intensely effective legislator who gets the job done.”
Correction, 12:17 p.m. An earlier version of this post misstated that no one from the state’s congressional delegation had endorsed in the race.
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