The news today that Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland won't seek re-election in 2016 has both parties scrambling, and the list of her possible replacements includes former Gov. Martin O'Malley. He's now faced with the question of a very winnable Senate contest versus a long shot Oval Office bid in 2016.
Several of the seven Maryland Democrats in Congress are expected to consider jumping into the race, including Reps. Chris Van Hollen, Elijah Cummings, Donna Edwards, John Delaney and possibly Rep. John Sarbanes, whose father also served in the Senate.
Many in Maryland and on Capitol Hill have long viewed Van Hollen, a former aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who lives in Montgomery County, as a likely candidate for Senate once Mikulski stepped aside.
In the last six years, however, Van Hollen has become an increasingly loyal understudy of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has at times considered retiring herself. That means a Van Hollen bid for the Senate could also upend the eventual race to replace Pelosi.
The Senate seat could also be tempting for O’Malley (D), who left office because of term limits in January and is weighing a 2016 presidential bid that has yet to get any traction.
O’Malley has been close to Mikulski for decades. He worked as the field director on her 1986 campaign, and O’Malley’s 87-year-old mother continues to serve as Mikulski’s receptionist.
Mikulski has been cool to the idea of an O’Malley presidential bid, however, announcing she intends to support Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination if the former secretary of state runs.
At the same time, O’Malley has served in an executive role for the past 15 years — a stint that includes his tenure as Baltimore mayor — and advisers have previously said that he has limited appetite for legislative service.
Other names being talked about on the Democratic side include Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, a former Montgomery County Council member and state-level Cabinet secretary; and former Montgomery County delegate Heather Mizeur, who ran unexpectedly strong in last year’s Democratic primary for governor on the strength of progressive support.
As with Sen. Barbara Boxer's seat in California, this is a solid blue state where a lot of Dems have been waiting in the wings to claim the prize for a long time. Mikulski has been serving for 29 years in the Senate and 12 in the House before that, making her the longest-serving woman in Congress, but the retirement wasn't entirely out of the question either as she will be 80 on Election Day in 2016.
We'll see where the Dems fall out and fall in there in Maryland, but remember, taking the eye off the ball is what cost the Dems the Governor's mansion in the state last year, and many (including myself) blame O'Malley for that screw up.