Senate Race Up First

Let’s put the candidates under a microscope. We’ll include Elijah Cummings because he clearly doesn’t want us to forget him.

Reminder: I support Chris Van Hollen. I hope that hasn’t affected my judgment, but that’s for you to decide.

Elijah Cummings: I understood him backing off on a decision about running in April because Baltimore was on fire after the Freddie Gray incident. But everything since then has been a really bad case of “hey everyone, notice me! I’m over here!” He needed to fundraise, and he needed a statewide operation, and he needed staff ready to go into battle, and he never did anything to move forward on any of this stuff. 

For a little while, even that would have been OK. But it’s been going on now for six months, and the milk is way, way past its expiration date - it stinks. He’s not running, and at some point he should have just come out and said so. He let Jamal Bryant get in to replace him, then strung him up and pushed him out, all within a week. It was absurd. I have nothing but the utmost respect for what Cummings has meant to the Democratic Party in Congress and as a moral beacon in Baltimore, but what he’s doing now is just wrong. The polls that include him now are a waste of time and money.

Donna Edwards: a campaign that started with great promise is now in the ditch. She didn’t raise enough money, she went negative too soon, both directly and through third party groups, and I’m not sure how or if she can retool now and be competitive. She dusted off her old 2006-2008 playbook against Al Wynn, going negative and slashing and burning as if Chris Van Hollen was an out of touch centrist, deal making local political boss. Chris Van Hollen is a lot of things, but he’s no Al Wynn. She’s not the only candidate running a replay of a ten year old campaign, but she’s surely the one in the worst shape.

She’s got no money and with Van Hollen’s recent media blitz in Baltimore, she’s getting beat 2-1 there. Pick a metric and she’s losing: money by 11-1, endorsements by a wide margin, Van Hollen is supported by 30% of African-American voters, and she’s losing the women’s vote by 7%. Even in grassroots organizing - her bread and butter - she’s getting whipped. Last week, Capital News Service had an analysis of the Senate race that contained this little nugget.

The Edwards campaign boasts about 2,600 volunteers, and its field operation holds regular phone banks in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, having already made more than 13,000 calls.

While the Van Hollen campaign does not have nearly as many volunteers – about 1,200 so far – it has made more than 71,000 phone calls to Maryland residents in October, while holding phone banks in eight counties and the Eastern Shore.

These are self-reported numbers. Let’s break them down. 2600 volunteers have made 13,000 calls - that’s five per volunteer - over several months. Let’s say five months, that’s one call per month per volunteer. Ugh.

1200 Van Hollen volunteers have made 71,000 calls - in one month. That’s 59 calls per month per volunteer. Let’s see if they can keep it up, but for now, that’s just another category that Donna Edwards is getting whipped.

The whispers - too wispy even for me to report as news - are that she’s thinking about dropping back into the CD4 race. I put no credence into this story - yet - but yes, it’s that bad. Bad enough that we have to wonder if IE groups like EMILY’s List will go to the mat financially for her. With that financial hole staring at me, at a minimum I’d rethink my commitments.

Chris Van Hollen: a textbook race so far, combining the whole package - fundraising, media, grassroots, endorsements, appearances, messaging - but it’s November, not April. There’s still five months to go, and if Edwards retools and goes back to her bread and butter message - the voice of the African-American woman is a unique one that needs to be heard in the halls of power - she is still a serious threat despite all of his advantages.

Don’t believe me? I’ve got two words for you - Kweisi Mfume. In 2006, he ran a disorganized, shambling disaster of a campaign, Ben Cardin got all the money and all the endorsements and ran a textbook campaign. Final result - a much closer than everyone remembers margin of 44-41. There’s a few differences - Edwards doesn’t have the legendary stature that Mfume did, there aren’t a bunch of vanity   candidates peeling off support primarily from Van Hollen (they took 15% mostly from Cardin in 2006), and Van Hollen is a better candidate than Cardin. But the warning is the same - the usual metrics don’t apply in a race like this. Don’t stop running hard.

The trick for Van Hollen is to keep his foot on the gas pedal, but not so much so that he seems like a bully. He should win, and if he doesn’t it will be a huge upset, but if Edwards stays in and fights back it’s by no means a done deal at this point.

OK, I’ve probably pissed off everyone by now, so let’s take a break. I warned y’all that this wasn’t going to be super sweet and pleasant, but real self-asessment isn’t warm and fuzzy. It’s SUPPOSED to hurt - that’s how  self-improvement happens. To the two candidates - and the third who wants to be seen as one - believe it or not, I love you all, each in your own different ways. But for today, it’s tough love.

Next up: CD4, maybe tonight but more likely tomorrow. CD8 will be Monday. Stay tuned.

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