Van Hollen to serve as Maryland’s next senator

 Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) declares victory in his Senate race Tuesday night. Photo by George Altshuler
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) declares victory in his Senate race Tuesday night. Photo by George Altshuler

Updated 11 p.m.

Chris Van Hollen will serve as Maryland’s next senator, succeeding Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) who will retire in January after five terms.

Van Hollen, who represents the state’s 8th congressional district, defeated Republican challenger Kathy Szeliga, 55, the minority whip in the state Senate Tuesday night. When the race was called shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m. the 40 people who had showed up to his watch party by then cheered and campaign staff hugged to celebrate what was an expected victory.

“I want to thank you for uniting behind the common purpose that every Marylander and every American is treated with dignity and respect and has the opportunity to have a fair shake in the United States of America, Van Hollen told supporters at the Douglas Conference Center in Silver Spring. “That’s what brings this extended family in this room together.”

Van Hollen noted that “this election has been different than any other election because it’s not just a difference in policy and public platforms,” referring to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“And I know that by the end of the night that we will make sure that across America that hope will triumph over fear in the USA,” he said.

Van Hollen’s, 57, election to the Senate means that he will “find himself in the center of leadership,” said Michele Swers, professor of American government at Georgetown University. Swers noted that Van Hollen served on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and helped the party raise money for candidates, a position he served at the request of then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

“I think that he was looking to move up in the party leadership,” she said.

Swers also pointed to Van Hollen’s experience as a ranking member of the Budget Committee while Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was the committee chair. Van Hollen’s ability to reach across the aisle is a strength, she thinks, but likely won’t change the gridlock on Capitol Hill.

“He was in the House and that didn’t get any more bipartisan,” she said.

Swers said Van Hollen has big shoes to fill in succeeding 30-year veteran Mikulski, but that he has a good chance of being re-elected in six years. She said that he could accomplish much in the area of campaign finance reform, an issue he is particularly passionate about.

“I think he could have a long legacy in the Senate,” she said.

In the local House races, Jamie Raskin, a constitutional law professor and state senator from Takoma Park, was elected to represent Maryland’s 8th congressional district.

Raskin defeated Republican Dan Cox, a Frederick attorney, to cap off a largely grassroots campaign that began in April 2015. Raskin, who represents state district 20, won a tight nine-way primary that was one of the most expensive House races in the country.

Raskin has served in the Maryland General Assembly for almost 10 years and is among its more liberal members, championing laws that legalized the use of medical marijuana and same-sex marriage.

John Delaney, who represents Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, was re-elected to a third term, defeating Republican Amie Hoeber.

Until the results came in, the mood at Hoeber’s watch party at the Holiday Inn in Frederick was hopeful, with Frederick County Commissioner Billy Shreve kicking off the night with a prayer to “re-elect the right people.”

The mood later turned somber as Hoeber gave an emotional concession speech in which she congratulated Delaney and called her run for Congress an “amazing experience.”

“We started with no recognition, endorsements or staff,” she said. “I think what we did in 16 months is amazing.”

Hoeber emphasized to her supporters that she ran a grassroots campaign, knocking on 35,000 doors and driving on “every road she recommended for improvement.”

“We have done what we set out to do, we made things better for this district,” she said.

The race was expected to be the state’s most competitive. Delaney is one of the wealthiest members of Congress. Hoeber, who’s husband, Mark Epstein, is the senior vice president of Qualcomm and the primary funder of the Hoeber-friendly super PAC Maryland USA, donating about $4 million to the group.

This prompted Delaney to file a lawsuit, alleging that Epstein’s donations to the Super PAC were illegal under FEC rules since it was almost exclusively associated with Hoeber’s campaign.

In the District 4 congressional race, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown defeated Republican George McDermott in the battle for the seat being vacated by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.). The victory is a second wind for Brown, who ran for governor two years ago but lost to Republican Larry Hogan by 76,000 votes.

In Virginia, District 11 Rep. Gerry Connolly, 66, faced no political opposition and was re-elected to a fifth term in Congress. Connolly has been discussed as a possible replacement for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), should he be elected vice president.

In the more competitive District 10 House race in Virginia, Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock defeated Democratic challenger LuAnn Bennett 55 percent to 45 percent. Outside groups spent more than $11 million combined between the two campaigns according to the Washington Post. This translated into a barrage of TV ads. Bennett attacked Comstock for not distancing herself from Trump, while Comstock criticized Bennett’s record as a real estate developer and also accused her of not living in Virginia.

The polling site at Leisure World’s Clubhouse I in Silver Spring was quiet Tuesday morning when resident Rafael Mevorach, 70, left after casting his ballot. Asked about the election season that was ending, he summed up his thoughts with three words:

“Oh, my God!”

Mevorach said he supports Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. Gwen Fehringer, 79, also a resident of Leisure World in Silver Spring, said she voted for Republican Donald Trump.
But she had no illusions about the election settling the country’s divisions.

“I think it’s the most contentious election I’ve ever seen, and no matter who wins they’re going to have half the people hating them and it’s going to be very difficult for whoever wins,” she said.

After a bitter race between Clinton and Trump, arguably the two most unpopular candidates in recent years, voters outside the polls expressed exhaustion and resignation.

“It’s a nasty election,” said Cindy Kleiman, who lives in the Baltimore suburb of Pikesville, on her way out of voting  “I’m so glad it’s over.”

She noted: “The best part of the election were the ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketches.”

For Scott Kleeman, who was voting in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Penn Wynne, the fireworks between Clinton and Trump left him suffering from sensory overload.

“It’s enough with the commercials. It’s enough with the negative campaigning,” he said. “It’s been a huge disruption.”

Clinton, 69, has consistently led in the polls throughout the race, although sometimes within the polls’ margin of error. Polls heading into Tuesday showing her leading Trump, 70, by an average of three points, points, 45 percent to 42 percent.

Trump had stated repeatedly that the election is “rigged,” and during the third presidential debate said he might refuse to accept the outcome of the election. A campaign ad released Sunday drew criticism from some Jewish groups as trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes.

The ad attacked the “political and economic machine of the world,” and showed images of Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellin, billionaire and Clinton supporter George Soros and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom are Jews.

“There is no place in civil political discourse for the perpetuation of harmful and baseless stereotypes,” Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote in a statement Monday.

“Whether intentional or not, the images and rhetoric in this ad touch on subjects that anti-Semites have used for ages,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL, wrote in a statement about the ad.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) told CNN that he thought the ad was “something of a German shepherd whistle” to the Jewish community.

“It clearly had sort of Elders of Zion kind of feel to it, international banking crisis — plot or conspiracy, rather — and then a number of Jews,” he said on “State of the Union.”

Clinton had held an 11 point lead over Trump in mid-October. She lead widened after a leaked video from 2005 showed Trump making sexually predatory comments about women.

But her lead shrank in the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s announcement on Oct. 28 that he would reopen the investigation into her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

If elected as the 45th president of the United States, Clinton would be the country’s first woman president and the first spouse of a former president to win the White House.

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George Altshuler, Justin Katz, Matthew Klickstein and Andy Gottlieb contributed to this article.

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