Rep. Cardin expected to announce run for U.S. Senate seat

Democratic leaders told he'll make it official soon

April 21, 2005|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin plans to announce Tuesday that he is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Maryland's Paul S. Sarbanes, several sources said yesterday.

Cardin, 61, a 10-term congressman and former speaker of the House of Delegates, has shied away from runs for higher office before. But the Baltimore-area Democrat has told party leaders of his intention to make a bid to succeed Sarbanes, who announced last month that he will not seek re-election next year. Cardin has e-mailed and telephoned hundreds of supporters and beefed up his campaign staff in preparation for the run, top Democrats said.

Jamie Fontaine, a campaign spokeswoman for Cardin, declined yesterday to discuss to his plans, saying only that the congressman would "announce his intentions very soon."

Cardin, who is known as low-key and cerebral, much like the man he would seek to replace, would be a formidable candidate in both the Democratic primary and the general election, many political observers say.

"Ben would make an excellent candidate," said his Democratic colleague, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County, who said he has spoken with Cardin about his plans but declined to comment on them. "He's got a tremendous amount of knowledge. He knows the issues that are so important to our state."

If he does enter the Democratic primary, Cardin would join former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume, who announced his plans to run last month, and A. Robert Kaufman, a Baltimore civic activist who has made several unsuccessful runs for office.

Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County have also expressed interest in the race, as has Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey. Ruppersberger announced two weeks ago that he would not run for Senate.

A poll conducted for The Sun last week found Cardin in second place among Democrats in a hypothetical three-way primary with Mfume and Van Hollen. Mfume led with 32 percent, Cardin had 26 percent and Van Hollen 16 percent, and a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

But of the three, Cardin was strongest against Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who has not declared his intentions but is regarded as a potential GOP candidate for the seat.

In a hypothetical matchup, Cardin led Steele 41 percent to 37 percent, based in large part on Cardin's strength in Baltimore County, a crucial jurisdiction for Republicans seeking statewide office. The margin of error for that question was 3.2 percentage points.

The poll found that more than other likely Democratic candidates, Cardin was supported strongly by both blacks and whites.

Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor, said Mfume, a former congressman, has an edge in the primary because his leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People makes him recognized statewide, an advantage he said Cardin doesn't have.

"Although he's been around a long time and was speaker of the House of Delegates, he's still identified mostly with Baltimore," Crenson said. "I think Mfume doesn't have a geographic attachment in the eyes of the voter."

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who went to law school with Cardin, said he thinks the congressman's intelligence and experience will endear him to the highly educated and politically savvy voters in the Washington suburbs, while the new boundaries of his district have increased his visibility with voters across the Baltimore region.

"He complained about redistricting, that it spread him out and took him away from his Jewish base, but now I'm sure he's very glad he's in Howard County and Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County," Miller said.

A Cardin run for U.S. Senate would likely create a domino effect in other offices.

State Sen. Paula C. Hollinger of Baltimore County and Del. Maggie L. McIntosh of Baltimore City, both Democrats who chair committees in the legislature, have said they would strongly consider running for Congress if Cardin's seat were vacant.

Baltimore County Dels. Bobby A. Zirkin and Jon S. Cardin -- the congressman's nephew -- have also expressed interest in running for Congress, as has Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens. All three are Democrats.

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