The race to replace U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3rd), who is not seeking reelection in 2024, continues to grow.
State Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) announced Thursday that he is entering the Democratic primary — becoming the fifth state lawmaker to seek the seat.
In an interview, Lam said it took him a while to join the race because, as a physician who regularly sees patients at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, he had to weigh the professional implications of a congressional bid along with the usual political considerations.
“I wasn’t jumping right in when the position became vacant,” Lam said. “For me, it had to do with where I could have the most impact.”
Lam was elected to the House of Delegates in 2014 and won a vacant state Senate seat four years later. In the legislature, he has focused on health care reform, education, the environment and accountability in state government — and has regularly been a bur in the side of administration officials, unafraid to ask tough questions, especially when Republican Larry Hogan was governor.
“We do have a long track record of getting things done in Annapolis,” Lam said. “We’ve been a real problem solver. As a physician, my perspective has always been to solve people’s problems.”
Lam in the past has criticized the toxic political environment on Capitol Hill, but said he is undaunted at the prospect of working there, if elected.
“Just because we have a broken system down there doesn’t mean that we can’t engage and participate,” he said.
Lam, 43, joins a Democratic field that includes Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) and Dels. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard), Terri L. Hill (D-Howard) and Mike Rogers (D-Anne Arundel). Because 2024 is a presidential election year, it is midway through their legislative terms, so none has to sacrifice their seat to run for Congress.
Unlike the rest of their colleagues in the General Assembly, they will not have to abide by the fundraising ban that applies to state elected officials during the upcoming 90-day legislative session, which runs from Jan. 10 to April 8. That fundraising prohibition does not apply to candidates running for federal office.
Lindsay Donahue, a medical IT specialist, and Kristin Lyman Nabors, a clinical research nurse, are also in the Democratic race.
Lam said he believes he’ll have several advantages in the primary. His legislative district includes territory in both Howard and Anne Arundel counties (the 3rd District also takes in a sliver of Carroll County), which could help him in the crowded primary.
Lam is bidding to be the first Asian-American to represent Maryland in Congress — and there are just three Chinese-Americans currently serving in the U.S. House. That could help him with national fundraising and visibility. So could the fact that there are only four physicians serving in Congress who are Democrats (Maryland Rep. Andy Harris is one of 15 Republican physicians).
Lam also notes that unlike most of his Democratic opponents, he has had to run in competitive primaries before — in 2014, when he finished first in a 10-way field, and in 2018, when he handily defeated a sitting Howard County councilmember who had been endorsed by the outgoing senator.
“I think we can do this again,” Lam said.
The senator has also put together a full consulting team. Rachel Levine of Hilltop Public Solutions, whose Maryland clients have included U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D), U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8th) and former Attorney General Brian Frosh (D), will be the general consultant. Fred Yang, a Maryland resident who has worked for several candidates in the state, will be the pollster.
Rachel Rice, one of the top Democratic fundraisers in the state, will help Lam chase campaign cash. Jessalyn Reid from Sunny Day Strategies, whose clients include the Democratic National Committee, will do digital strategy.
Former Del. Ned Carey (D), who represented a district in northern Anne Arundel County, will be Lam’s campaign treasurer.
“Senator Lam and I were elected to the General Assembly together nine years ago. During that time, I’ve seen him consistently hold our state agencies accountable by asking the tough questions,” Carey said. “As we’ve toured parts of North County first hand, I also know that — like Congressman Sarbanes — he’s committed to making sure constituent services remain a top priority for our district.”
Carey’s successor, Del. Gary Simmons (D-Anne Arundel), has also endorsed Lam.
“Clarence and I have a great partnership serving the residents of North County, and he’s always there for you,” Simmons said. “I’ve seen him work incredibly hard for our constituents while in the Senate, and that’s why I’m proud to endorse him to be our next congressman.”
Elfreth was out quickly with a series of endorsements from Anne Arundel elected officials, including County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) and Sens. Pamela Beidle (D) and Dawn Gile (D).
Meanwhile, Rogers held a campaign kickoff Tuesday night at a warehouse owned by Genergi, a logistics and IT company in Hanover. About 200 people attended.
“I was kind of blown away,” Rogers said.
Several current and former elected officials were on hand, including Anne Arundel County Councilmember Pete Smith (D), former Councilmember Sarah Lacey, Del. Shaneka Henson, who shares a district with Elfreth, former Laurel City Councilmember Martin Mitchell, and Carl Snowden, the former Annapolis alderman and civil rights leader.
Asked whether these officials were there to endorse him, Rogers said endorsement announcements would be coming soon.
“I think their presence spoke for itself,” he said.