Little Eva’s 1962 hit Loco-motion set the tone for a Donna Edwards campaign rally in Baltimore’s Station North arts and entertainment district last weekend that was part sock hop, part prayer meeting. Campaign staffer Salima Siler Marriott told three dozen volunteers that it is “really critical at this juncture is that you are able to multiply yourself” to get out the Edwards vote.
“We do not have the money that the opposition has,” she said, pounding a table for emphasis. “And so our campaign is going to be based on outreach to people.”
The four-term congresswoman from Prince Georges County is locked in what seems to be a neck and neck contest with her colleague, seven-term Rep. Chris Van Hollen from Montgomery County. The prize is the Senate seat held for nearly 30 years by Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring. And the battleground is Mikulski’s home turf where both candidates are outsiders.
The two House members have nearly identical voting records. But Edwards argues that for African-American women just having a white guy who votes your way is not good enough.
“After almost 240 years of our history, one black woman elected to the United States Senate on her own…” she started as her audience responded with scattered calls of, “All right.” “Twenty women serving currently in the United States Senate; including our own Senator Barbara Mikulski,” she went on as cheers and applause built. “My goodness, we don’t need a substitute for our voice. Our voice needs to be at the table.”
Van Hollen, who boasts a record of progressive accomplishments in Congress, is sharply challenging Edwards’ bid to replace Mikulski. A few hours before Edwards’ appearance on North Charles Street, Van Hollen was in downtown Baltimore at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum for African-American history. And his message was similar—except for the woman part.
“And as we look at the problems and scandal of mass incarceration and the fact that we are spending much more on prisons when we need to be spending more on schools, when we need to reform our criminal justice system,” Van Hollen told the museum crowd. “And yes, black lives do matter, and that is part of the next chapter in our quest for social justice in the United States.”
At issue is how much being a woman matters, particularly a black woman.
Van Hollen, who served in the Maryland legislature and in several top posts in Congress, has collected endorsements from elected officials throughout the Baltimore region. They include such women leaders as Delegate Maggie McIntosh, chairman of the Maryland House Appropriations committee.
“Somebody said to me, ‘You know, they would vote the same if either one of them gets elected.’” McIntosh explained. “That’s probably true. But one of them will get things done. And that’s Chris Van Hollen.”
Van Hollen has far outpaced Edwards in campaign fundraising. He entered the final two-month stretch before the April 26 primary with a 10 to 1 advantage in money.
But that advantage has been offset by help for Edwards from Emily’s List, the abortion rights group that only supports female Democratic candidates. With a new round of pro-Edwards television ads, the political action committee associated with Emily’s List has invested about $1.5 million in this contest so far.
In the end, the race likely will be decided by how well Edwards connects with folks like Nicole Williams, a lawyer from Greenbelt, who attended the Baltimore rally.
“I think for me as an African-American woman, she resonates so much with me,” Williams said. “Her story really is my story. Every woman’s story.”
The next chapter will be written April 26.