For several weeks now, the dominant inside narrative on the Senate race was this: (1) Elijah Cummings had such strong poll numbers that he was definitely going to enter the race, (2) this would severely damage Donna Edwardsâ€™ position as the only African-American candidate in the race, and (3) Chris Van Hollen would be intimidated by the prospect of a one-on-one matchup with Elijah Cummings.
Needless to say, I didnâ€™t write most of this. I did write about Cummings and his growing interest in the race, and I remain convinced heâ€™s going to run. But I noticed something as the last two weeks unfolded: Elijah Cummings was dribbling out information a little at a time, testing the waters, looking to see what the reaction was. First, it became clear that Cummings was changing from a kingmaker, deciding between Edwards and Van Hollen, to a candidate. Second, the story in the National Journal that I linked to earlier in the week (“Kaboom?”), highlighting the close relationship between Cummings and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, was in hindsight a trial balloon to see what the reaction would be to (a) a Cummings candidacy, and (b) Warrenâ€™s support, to one degree or another, of that candidacy. Third was Cummingsâ€™ trip to Annapolis Monday night, to “take the temperature” of the General Assembly as to a Cummings run.
So hereâ€™s a question: is Cummings really dedicated to running? I still say yes, but the piecemeal nature of the way the information has been fed to the media is intriguing. Maybe this is just Cummingsâ€™ way of doing things, carefully and deliberately, but another interpretation is that he isnâ€™t 100% committed just yet. I donâ€™t pretend to have an answer, but it would be a fascinating question for someone from the Post or the Sun to ask him.
The part of the narrative I didnâ€™t write about, because I simply didnâ€™t believe it, was Chris Van Hollen being intimidated or daunted by a Cummings candidacy. Anyone who knows Chris to any degree at all knows this: that man is not afraid of anything or anyone. As a one term delegate in 1994, he knocked off an incumbent Democratic state senator in the primary. In 2002, against all good judgment, he ran against Mark Shriver, a Kennedy no less, in the Democratic primary for Congress. Outspent and outendorsed, he ran a brilliant grassroots campaign and won by 2,472 votes, a margin of less than 3%. In the general election, against national Republican headwinds, but aided by a very favorable redistricting map created earlier that same year, Van Hollen unseated 8-term incumbent Connie Morella, the only Republican (I believe) to lose a House race that year.
So if some folks thought Van Hollen would back down, I wasnâ€™t among them. And I was right: while Cummings continues to prepare for an announcement of his candidacy as early as next week, Chris Van Hollen didnâ€™t blink. He rolled out an enormously significant endorsement from Prince Georgeâ€™s County Executive Rushern Baker that managed in one fell swoop to fire a blast at BOTH Elijah Cummings and Donna Edwards, taking the fight to Edwardsâ€™ home county and letting Cummings know he wasnâ€™t going to concede the substantial Maryland African-American vote to anyone.
Thereâ€™s more fallout from the Baker endorsement, but thatâ€™s enough for now. Iâ€™ll write about the impact on the Edwards campaign later today. Let me know what you think. Happy Wednesday.