GOP Race to Replace Sen. Edwards Quickly Taking Shape

The Maryland state seal is displayed above an entrance to the Maryland Senate Office Complex in Annapolis. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

One week after veteran state Sen. George C. Edwards (R-Garrett) announced plans to retire next year, a competitive Republican primary is shaping up to replace him.

Del. Michael W. McKay (R-Allegany) is the latest candidate to join the race, having made an announcement at the Allegany County Fair outside Cumberland on Sunday evening. Allegany County Commission Chairman Jake Shade (R) announced his plans to run a day after Edwards’ announcement.

The 1st District, which Edwards has represented since 2007, is the biggest Senate district in the state geographically, taking in all of Garrett and Allegany counties as well as the western portion of Washington County. It is currently divided into three House subdistricts.

McKay, 52, has represented the easternmost part of the district in the House since 2015 and previously served on the Allegany County Board of County Commissioners and on the Allegany County Board of Education. He owns a dry cleaning business in downtown Cumberland.

“Over my two decades in public service, I have consistently delivered measurable successes for Western Maryland and put our people ahead of politics.”

McKay has worked to strengthen the social safety net in Western Maryland and has worked with his Democratic colleagues in Annapolis on issues like workforce development, economic expansion, health care and mental health. He serves on the House Appropriations Committee in Annapolis and is co-chair of the State Commission on Economic Stability.

Shade, 28, is a young man in a hurry and considered a rising political star in Western Maryland. He was elected to the Allegany County Board of Commissioners in 2014 and argues that he helped stabilize a once-dysfunctional local government. He said he hoped to follow in Edwards’ footsteps and be “an effective conservative senator for Western Maryland.”

“I’m proud of the work I’ve accomplished as a county commissioner, and now it’s time to move on to another challenge,” Shade said.

In his day job, Shade works in the insurance industry.

It’s possible that other Republicans could join the race — but that list will not include Edwards’ son, Garrett County Board of County Commissioners President Paul C. Edwards, who has long been seen as a possible successor and has had a similar political trajectory to his father.

In an email to Maryland Matters Tuesday, the younger Edwards, a school administrator, said that while he’d like to serve in state office some day, the timing isn’t right for his family for him to run for a legislative seat. He added that there’s more he’d like to accomplish at the county level so he has filed to run for a third term as a commissioner.

Although conservative Democrats have represented House subdistricts in Western Maryland in the not-too-distant past, they are unlikely to seriously contest the 1st District Senate seat next year. George Edwards ran unopposed in 2018.

Meanwhile, McKay’s decision to seek the Senate seat is having a domino effect in local government. The Herald-Mail newspaper in Hagerstown reported last week that Washington County Commissioners Terry L. Baker (R) and Wayne Keefer (R) have both filed to run for McKay’s House seat.

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Josh Kurtz
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.