Racial split defines MD.’s hotly contested Democratic Senate primary

By Rachel Weiner and Scott Clement , Washington Post

Edwards and Van Hollend

Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen

Maryland’s Democratic Senate race remains very much up for grabs three weeks before the primary, with voters sharply divided along racial lines, according to a new poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland. The rare open Senate seat, being vacated by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) after 30 years, has sparked a heated and expensive battle between Reps. Donna F. Edwards and Chris Van Hollen. Edwards is trying to appeal to voters by emphasizing her inspiring personal story as a black single mother with an activist history. Her rival has responded with a bunch of endorsements from public office¬holders and a relentless focus on his legislative record.
Faced with that choice, African American and white voters appear deeply split. Among all likely Democratic primary voters, Edwards leads Van Hollen by a statistically insignificant 44 percent to 40 percent. But likely black voters favor Edwards by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio. More than twice as many white voters support Van Hollen as back Edwards.
While Edwards also leads among women, that split has racial underpinnings as well, according to the survey, which was conducted in partnership with U-Md.’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship. Van Hollen leads by 23 percentage points among white women. But that preference is quickly erased by Edwards’s 51-point lead with black women, many of whom seem drawn by her argument that she is best suited to understand their needs and fight for those needs in an overwhelmingly white, mostly male U.S. Senate.
“Women get short¬changed a lot,” said Edwards supporter Jacqui Battle, 59, a black mother of two in Prince George’s County. “It means a lot that she’s where she is, at the level she is, in her career.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and several other black elected officials from Edwards’s home county have endorsed Van Hollen — an advantage he touts at every opportunity. But Edwards still leads in Prince George’s by 59 points. (Van Hollen is nearly as highly favored in his home of Montgomery County.)
And despite extensive television ad campaigns and scores of visits and appearances, neither candidate holds a clear advantage in the Baltimore area, encompassing both the largely African American city and the whiter surrounding suburbs.
Both Edwards and Van Hollen frequently invoke Mikulski, a revered figure both nationally and locally, and the first female Democrat elected to the Senate in her own right.
Edwards notes that she, too, would make history as Maryland’s first black senator and the second female black senator. Van Hollen argues that he, like Mikulski, is a constituent-oriented and savvy politician.

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