Maryland Senate candidates face off

U.S. Reps. Donna Edwards, left, and Chris Van Hollen
U.S. Reps. Donna Edwards, left, and Chris Van Hollen

Rep. Donna Edwards was the first to take a direct swipe at her main Democratic rival for the open seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

Speaking Sunday at a candidates forum in Rockville hosted by the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Prince George’s County Democrat and District 4 congressional representative sought to distance herself from Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

“I’m actually proud that I started out in 2006 not in the Congress, but allied with organizations all across the country who were fighting to shore up the backbones of members of Congress to protect Social Security from cuts, and I think sometimes as members, we actually overstate our importance and understate the importance of all the grassroots advocates around the country who did that,”

Edwards said in a thinly veiled jab at Van Hollen, who remarked several times throughout the event that he “got it done.”

Within two sentences, Edwards launched into the first direct comment against Van Hollen — who represents District 8 — saying, “I think here is where there is and has been, frankly, a fundamental difference between myself and Chris Van Hollen. … Mr. Van Hollenwas ‘willing to consider’ — those were his own words — cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”

Given the format of the forum, moderated by NOW President Terry O’Neill, Van Hollen was not given an immediate opportunity to rebut as it was Edwards’ turn to respond first to an audience question regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

“I have been a very strong proponent of trade deals that are fair trade deals. Unfortunately, there again you can look at the differences in our record,” said Edwards. She asserted that she is leading the fight against fast-track trade authority and to TPP, calling it a “bad deal for American workers.”

Van Hollen, in his rebuttal, revealed what political watchers already know: Ideologically, there is not much difference between the two candidates.

The Montgomery County Democrat is against TPP and fast-track. As to Edwards’ criticisms, he said that he evaluates each trade deal on its own merits. He supports expansion of Social Security, pushing back against the assertions that she made that day and in less direct terms in her candidacy announcement video.

“I actually led the effort to convince the president not to put the chained [Consumer Price Index] proposal in his second budget,” which limits the inflationary growth of Social Security benefits, said Van Hollen.

“At the same time, frankly, I persuaded him not to put a cut in federal employee benefits in his budget. That is on the record,” Van Hollen said.

His remarks were interrupted with applause.

Rockville is part of Van Hollen’s stomping grounds and his supporters let attendees know it, lining the drive up to the building’s parking lot with Van Hollen campaign signs, passing out stickers and offering a volunteer sign-up sheet.

The candidates’ closing statements highlighted their differing campaign strategies. Van Hollen comes across as a wonk, pointing to his history in the state legislature and Congress, name-dropping colleagues and supporters along the way. Edwards presents herself as the grassroots outsider, whose voice as a single working mother and woman of color deserves a seat at the table.

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