One is a man, the other is a woman. One is white, the other is black. They’re both 57 years old; they’re both Democrats, and they’re both running in the Maryland primary today to be the replacement for liberal legend Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring after a remarkable Senate career that saw her rise to be the chairwoman (now the Ranking Member) of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Chris Van Hollen has enjoyed his own meteoric rise in the House of Representatives. In 2006, Nancy Pelosi created a special leadership position for him, and then he served as DCCC chairman from 2007-2011, experiencing one good and one very bad election cycle. He parlayed that into a slot as the Ranking Member of the powerful Budget Committee. But he gave it all up on a gamble that he could win today’s primary against Rep. Donna Edwards.

Rep. Edwards became a netroots hero in 2008 when she successfully primaried out Rep. Albert Wynn who had invited progressives’ wrath by opposing Net Neutrality while voting for the war in Iraq, a repeal of the Estate Tax, and Bush’s loathsome bankruptcy bill. Compared to Van Hollen, Edwards is a backbencher. While she does serve at the Ranking Member of the Committee on Science’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, she has no real power or special influence within the Democratic caucus. She wasn’t giving up too much to make a roll of the dice on a Senate seat. It’s fair to say, though, that she has a lot of enthusiastic grassroots supporters.

And she’ll need that support today because Von Hollen has reportedly raised $5 million more than she has, and some recent polls have shown Van Hollen pulling ahead.

Probably the more compelling story is about who will lose this race rather than who will win, because they both have had very successful and promising careers, and it’s not clear what kind of future awaits the loser of today’s primary.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at