In an email to supporters Wednesday afternoon (3/4/15), Representative Chris Van Hollen, an up and coming power broker in the Democratic Minority in the House of Representatives, confirmed that he would, as most observers had concluded, make a run at the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikulski. Mikulski, who’s retirement does not come as a shock to most insiders, comes after nearly thirty years in a seat that has seen Maryland become a progressively “blue-r” state.
Van Hollen, who turned 56 in January, has been a member of the US House of Representatives since 2003. In 2007, Van Hollen was elected as the Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He served in this capacity until 2011. During this time, Van Hollen also served as the ranking member on the House Budget Committee. He currently serves on the bicameral conference committee.
Van Hollen’s connection with Mikulski’s seat predates Mikulski’s occupancy of it. Van Hollen served as a legislative assistant to Republican Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias from 1985 to 1987. Mathias, known for his strident opposition to the growing conservative movement in the Republican Party, was the last Republican US Senator elected from the State of Maryland.
Van Hollen has a 100% score from pro-choice group NARAL. Van Hollen has a 33% score from the US Chamber of Commerce. Van Hollen voted to extend the Patriot Act’s roving wiretaps in 2011. Van Hollen voted “no” on building a border fence along the Mexican border in 2006. Van Hollen voted not to extend Congressional oversight to the Administration’s decision to use armed forces against Libya, but he did vote against the removal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2011. Notably, Van Hollen voted in favor of investigating President Bush for impeachment over the Iraq War and voted “no” on the approval of removing Saddam Hussein from power.
Congressman Van Hollen, seen as close to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, won re-election in Maryland’s newly-redistricted 8th Congressional District with 60.2% of the vote in 2014. He had previously won re-election with 63.4% in 2012.
Van Hollen’s net worth is lower than the majority of his congressional colleagues and one of the lowest in the Maryland Congressional Delegation. In his 2014 re-election bid, Van Hollen raised $1,055,850 and spent $1.3M. Van Hollen’s top contributors were Northwest Mutual and Arnold & Porter who donated $25,200 and $13,068, respectively. Large contributions made up 28% of Van Hollen’s re-election financing while 68% came from PACs.
Van Hollen is widely seen as the frontrunner to replace outgoing Senator Mikulski. However, Van Hollen will likely face stiff competition from a wide pool of other candidates. His relatively early entrance into the race belies his need to start wide-ranging fundraising outside of Maryland now. Moreover, though Van Hollen is well-known in the rich DC suburbs, his clout may not extend into Baltimore City.
Other potential Democratic candidates Congresswoman Donna Edwards and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake have made their interest known in the race while former Governor Martin O’Malley has decided not to enter. Other names being tossed around are Congressman Elijah Cummings and Congressman John Sarbanes. Another name to watch may be Judge Frank Kratovil who lost a gerrymandered re-election in the first district to Republican Andy Harris.