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Voters Head To Polls To Choose Primary Candidates For 7th District Congressional Seat

Emily Sullivan

Voters in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District are heading to the polls on Tuesday to cast their ballots in a primary race to determine who will carry out the rest of Congressman Elijah Cumming’s term. 

The 7th District has about 510,000 voters, 52 percent of whom are black. The district spans from just over half of Baltimore City to Howard and Baltimore Counties. Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 4 to 1, meaning Tuesday’s Democratic winner is likely to win April’s general special election.

The field is packed with 24 Democrat and 8 Republican candidates. Political experts say the race is wide open: major media outlets haven’t conducted any polling. Candidates have, but haven’t released their results, suggesting there’s no clear frontrunner. Top Democratic fundraisers include former 7th District Congressman Kweisi Mfume, Cummings’ widow and former head of the Maryland Democratic Party Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and University of Baltimore law professor F. Michael Higginbotham. Higginbotham loaned his campaign around $500,000. 

Other candidates include progressive State Senator Jill Carter, who nabbed the Baltimore Sun’s endorsement and has shown strong grassroots support, Delegate Terri Hill, former Cummings staffer Harry Spikes and activist Saafir Rabb. 

Cummings’ funeral was October 25; Gov. Larry Hogan announced the special election days later. Candidates had to make their pitches to voters in a crunched timeline and the busy holiday season coincided with the middle of the race.  

Experts are also expecting a low turnout since voters aren’t used to casting their ballots in February.

Veronica Saunders of West Baltimore is voting. She arrived to Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School as polls opened Tuesday morning, trying to get other voters to consider voting for Mfume.

“He is a man of the people, with a track record,” she said. “He did good for us then and will do good now.”

Kayenecha Daughtery, the executive director of Creative Nomads, declined to say who she voted for, but said she looked carefully at candidates’ policies and track records. 

“We need, especially over here in this area of Penn North, to make sure that we have somebody who represents us well in making sure that we have the resources we need to combat challenges that this neighborhood has,” Daughtery said.

Peggy Webster of Bolton Hill said she showed up to vote on Tuesday in honor of Cummings. She cast her vote for Spikes, citing his close working relationship with his late boss. 

“He knows the job,” Webster said. “He worked for Cummings and he's got the heart."

Lawrence Sparks also arrived at Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School early Tuesday morning. But at 7:30 a.m., he was still undecided.

“To my knowledge there’s two experienced [candidates]” he said, naming Rockeymoore Cummings and Mfume. “So between the two I’ll make a decision… once I get in the booth.”

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.