Who Comes After Cummings in Maryland’s 7th District?

Maryland Democratic Chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings may try to succeed her husband, the late Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D). File photo

The next-to-last time there was an open House seat from Maryland in the middle of a congressional term, 27 Democratic candidates ran for the vacancy.

The last time a member of Congress from Maryland died in office, he was succeeded by his wife.

Could one – or both – scenarios play out again following the death Thursday of 12-term Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D)?

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has 10 days to set a special election to fill the 7th District seat left vacant by Cummings’ death. The primary election must take place no less than 65 days after Hogan issues the proclamation formally declaring a vacancy, and the general election would take place no less than 65 days after that.

After trudging along the campaign trail throughout the holidays, whomever is elected then would almost certainly run in the April 2020 primary and the November general election to seek a full term.

No matter what happens, the seat will remain vacant for quite some time – most likely until March.

But political decisions about whether to run in the special congressional election will have to be made quickly.

“This is a vacuum. This is a whirlwind,” state House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City) said during an interview Thursday on WBAL Radio’s “C4 Show.”

Yet Cummings’ death is so fresh that political professionals and prospective candidates aren’t quite ready to speak about it publicly yet.

“It’s too early to talk about,” one Baltimore City Democratic official said Thursday about the news. “I was blown away” by the news, the politician added.

The last Maryland congressional vacancy that opened up in the middle of a term came in 2008, when then-Rep. Albert R. Wynn resigned shortly after losing the Democratic primary to Donna Edwards. Edwards went on to win the special election to replace him with ease.

The middle-of-the-term vacancy before then was in 1996, when former Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D) resigned to become national president of the NAACP. Twenty-seven Democrats, including five state lawmakers, jumped into the primary race – which Cummings won with 37 percent of the vote.

That Democratic primary was tantamount to election, and Cummings has won reelection easily since then.

The last time a Maryland congressman died in office was in 1978, when then-Rep. Goodloe Byron (D) had a heart attack at the age of 49. He was replaced by his widow, Beverly Byron (D), who went on to serve until 1993.

It’s possible that one or both of these scenarios could repeat themselves in the special election to replace Cummings. But the timing of the special could be tricky – because most offices in Baltimore City, where Cummings’ congressional district is anchored, are up for election next year, with the all-important Democratic primary taking place on April 28.

The battle lines for key city elections are quickly being drawn. But the filing deadline isn’t until next January. Could some of the candidates for city offices opt out of those races and look to run for Congress instead?

On the other hand, a run for Congress next year – in the special election or on the regular election calendar – is a risk-free proposition for members of the General Assembly and most county officeholders. They won’t have to risk their seats to run for Congress in 2020.

The 7th District remains a Democratic stronghold, but it now includes territory in Baltimore County as well as suburban and rural areas in Howard County. So the lineup of candidates to succeed Cummings may not be limited to those from Baltimore City.

Congressional candidates do not need to live in the districts where they run. All that’s required is residency in the state. And given the convergence of congressional districts in the Baltimore area, thanks to gerrymandering, any number of officeholders can plausibly seek the Cummings seat, whether they live in the 7th District or not.

It is widely assumed that Cummings’ widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who is currently chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, will think seriously about running. Rockeymoore Cummings has spent most of her career doing policy work in Washington, D.C., and is politically ambitious.

She became politically active in Maryland fairly recently – first as a successful candidate to become a delegate to the Democratic National Committee in 2016, then with an aborted run for governor in the 2018 election cycle. She was elected state Democratic chairwoman last December, ousting the incumbent, Kathleen Matthews.

A congressional bid by Rockeymoore Cummings would inevitably mean a new leadership fight at the state party.

The Maryland Democratic Party issued a statement at 5:46 a.m. Thursday that featured a quote from Rockeymoore Cummings professing her love and admiration for her husband and his political record. But it also implied that there will be no political announcements soon.

“We ask the public and the press to allow Maryland Democratic Party Chair Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings — and the rest of the Cummings family — time and space to grieve their loss,” the state party said in an email.

The next level of potential candidates includes Branch, the House majority whip in Annapolis, who has long aspired to serve in Congress, and someone from the Mosby family – either Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby (D) or state Del. Nick J. Mosby (D).

Other potential candidates, according to an early survey of political leaders, includes Mfume, state Sens. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), Antonio L. Hayes (D-Baltimore City) and Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), and Dels. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard), Keith Haynes (D-Baltimore City) and Charles Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County).

Since 2017, Maryland’s congressional delegation has been all male. Does that give women candidates an advantage in the race to replace Cummings?

WOLB Radio’s “Larry Young Show” — hosted by ex-Baltimore state Sen. Larry Young (D), a former colleague of Cummings’ — is expected to devote part of its show Friday morning to possible Cummings successors.

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