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Candidates In 7th Congressional District Primary Near Compressed Race’s End

Jose Luis Magana (top image) & Julio Cortez (bottom image)/AP

 Days after the emotional funeral of congressman and civil rights icon Elijah Cummings, Governor Larry Hogan announced a Feb. 4 special primary to fill his seat – and Democratic candidates in the deep-blue 7th congressional district were off to the races. 


“The whole race has been very fast. It's been emotional,” Martha McKenna, a longtime Democratic campaign consultant and advisor to Maya Rockeymore Cummings, said. “It's been the kind of race where people talking to each other about... why they're supporting individual candidates has a lot of meaning because the whole election has come so quickly, over the holidays and into the new year.”


Rockeymore Cummings, the former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party and Elijah’s widow, is one of dozens of candidates running to carry out the rest of his term.  


The packed field and compressed timeline makes this race unique, said Sophia Silbergeld, a director at a strategic communications group with over a decade of experience in political fundraising. (Silbergeld is a member of the WYPR board of directors.)


“I’ve never really seen a campaign that has this little information that the public has to go on,” she said. 


In part, because there’s been no publicly accessible polls. Major media outlets haven’t conducted them. Candidates like Rockeymore Cummings and University of Baltimore law professor F. Michael Higginbotham have, but haven’t leaked them – suggesting there is no clear frontrunner.


However, turning to cash reserves can indicate who will put up a fight in the next few days. Silbergeld points to the three Democratic candidates in particular: Rockeymore Cummings, Higginbotham and former 7th district congressman Kweisi Mfume.  


Rockeymore Cummings raised $208,000, thanks to a long list of women donors and an Emily’s List endorsement. Her campaign has spread cash around television, radio and print ads and has just under $70,000 on hand for the closing days of the race.


Mfume’s campaign has highlighted its small donors: about 70 percent of contributions were 200 dollars or less. The former NAACP president has around $200,000 in cash. 


So does Higginbotham, who donated more than half a million dollars of his own to his campaign. The law professor has spent more than anyone else in the race and seven times more than Mfume. 


“The fundraising is all pretty tight, because someone who had no political history made a self loan and that, plus his fundraising, has really put him in the mix,” Silbergeld said of Higginbotham. “But we don't really know if he's in the mix because we haven't seen any actual polling… it’s like flying blind.”


So it’s far from impossible that other Democratic candidates with solid fundraising and strong local roots, like State Senator Jill P. Carter, activist Saafir Rabb, and Delegate Terri Hill, could pull off a strong turnout on Tuesday.   


With just four full days until then, both McKenna and Silbergeld both say that 7th district voters are likely to be hit with lots of advertisements and visited by doorknockers as congressional hopefuls hit the home stretch.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.