WASHINGTON -- Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said yesterday that he will not pursue the seat of retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes -- a move that could help push some other potential candidates in or out of the race.
Ruppersberger, a Democrat who represents much of Baltimore County, is in his second term in the House. He said that after talking to his family and supporters, he decided he is better off staying in the House for now.
"I think the timing's not there for me," Ruppersberger said.
He said a recent bout with pneumonia gave him time to talk to a lot of people and think about what to do, and his conclusion was that he can do more from his seat on the House Intelligence Committee.
"There's a lot on my plate. I love my job," Ruppersberger said. "I like action, and I feel like I'm making a difference for my country and my district and my state."
Ruppersberger's departure from the fledgling competition -- Sarbanes announced last month that he won't run for a sixth term next year -- clears a path for other Democratic House members who are considering a run. Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen said yesterday that they are still thinking about what to do.
Cardin, a former leader in the state House of Delegates, said he will make a decision soon but wouldn't give a specific timetable.
"We are going through a process, and that process has a schedule and we're on that schedule," he said.
Cardin and Ruppersberger are longtime friends and colleagues, and each was perceived as a possible impediment to the other getting into the race. There was also the perception that, in a crowded primary field, they might cancel each other out.
The only formal candidates to replace Sarbanes are Kweisi Mfume, former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who also represented Baltimore in the House of Representatives, and civic activist A. Robert Kaufman.
Cardin said he and Ruppersberger have talked frequently about the race and their prospects.
"It's something that I was waiting to see what he was going to do," Cardin said.
Ruppersberger said his decision "was not about who's in the race," and while he spoke admiringly of his colleague, he said he has not directly advised Cardin to become a candidate. "He's got to make that decision."
Van Hollen, who represents Montgomery County and is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, said yesterday that he is touring the state and talking to potential supporters.
"I am actively exploring all aspects of the race," Van Hollen said. "The paramount question will be, how can I best serve the people of Maryland at this time?"
Van Hollen said he has not been approached by anyone to broker a deal or persuade him not to run.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who holds Mfume's old seat, is also thinking about running, a spokeswoman said.
The jockeying for an election that is 18 months away is less intense -- or at least less crowded -- on the Republican side, where Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele is the most prominent potential candidate.