The February 4 special primary election to fill the late Rep. Elijah Cummings’s congressional seat takes place Tuesday. A total of 32 candidates are competing in Maryland’s Seventh District race: 24 Democrats and eight Republicans.
Cummings won the seat in 1996 and held it until his death in 2019. Now, his friends, allies, and family members are battling one another for the position.
The race is an unusual one, and not just because of the number of candidates running. It presents what could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to represent the district in Washington — Cummings held the seat for 24 years — and given that 81 percent of the district’s registered voters are Democrats, any Democratic candidate who wins the primary has essentially won the general election as well.
Polls close at 8 pm ET. Live results, provided in partnership with Decision Desk HQ, are below:
The Democratic primary has been called for Kweisi Mfume. The Republican primary has been called for Kimberly Klacik.
There are a few Democratic candidates considered to be the frontrunners, mainly based on their fundraising numbers, field operations, name recognition — or all three.
Cummings’s widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, is well known in the district both for being the lawmaker’s partner, but also from her stint as the chair of Maryland’s Democratic Party. Kweisi Mfume actually once held the seat; he left the House in 1996 in order to lead the NAACP.
But there are some fresher faces worth watching as well, including University of Baltimore professor F. Michael Higginbotham, who’s running a well-funded campaign thanks to loaning himself more than half a million dollars; and state lawmakers Del. Terri Hill and Sen. Jill Carter.
A wrinkle in all this is that Tuesday’s contest is a primary for a special election to be held April 28, the same day the regular primary will be held for November’s congressional race. The filing deadline for April’s primary was in January — that is, before the special primary election. Which means whichever Democrat wins on Tuesday will have to face all 23 candidates they’ve just defeated in a second primary in order to keep the seat for the full term at stake in November.
And given the district is safely Democratic, Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, told Vox there’s no incentive for the candidates who lose Tuesday to suspend their campaigns in the name of party unity.
“There’s not really any indication at this point that the person who wins the special election, that the other people would then drop out and coalesce behind them,” Kromer said.
So come Wednesday, we should know who will finish out Cummings’s term. But we won’t know for sure whether they’ll get to stay in Washington for the 117th Congress until April — and given what we know about the current state of the race, it’s possible one candidate may win the special election in April and another gets the seat in November.
We know almost nothing about this race
Normally at this point in a crowded race — even a close one like the 2020 Democratic primary — we would have some frontrunners.
But in the Maryland Seventh District race, it’s really hard to tell who’s doing well and who isn’t, because there’s been no public polling (other than an unscientific online poll).
“We’re all kind of flying blind here,” Sophia Silbergeld, director at Adeo Advocacy, a Baltimore public affairs firm, told Vox.
To try to get a grasp on who the frontrunners are, experts have looked at campaign finance filings in order to see which candidates have done the best with fundraising, and have suggested that — as with most quick elections, down-ballot races, and other less publicized contests — the candidates voters are already most familiar with will have an advantage.
“Name recognition matters,” Kromer said. “It’s a big deal right now, especially for the special election, because the runway was just so short.”
Since Cummings’s death in October, candidates have had around three months to introduce themselves to voters. The list of Democrats running is long:
- T. Dan Baker
- Talmadge Branch
- Alicia D. Brown
- Anthony Carter, Sr.
- Jill Carter
- Matko Lee Chullin, III
- Jay Fred Cohen
- Nathaniel M. Costley, Sr.
- Maya Rockeymoore Cummings
- Jermyn Davidson
- Darryla Gonzalez
- Mark Steven Gosnell
- Leslie E. Grant
- Dan Hiegel
- F. Michael Higginbotham
- Terri Hill
- Jay Jalisi
- Paul V. Konka
- Kweisi Mfume
- Adrian Petrus
- Saafir A. Rabb
- Charles U. Smith
- Harry Spikes
- Charles Stokes
As is the list of Republican candidates. Perhaps the most notable of these is Kimberly Klacik, given she created the viral videos about Baltimore that led President Donald Trump to attack Cummings as a “brutal bully” representing a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” Klacik has promised to be “a stronger voice against socialism and the Squad,” a group of four female progressive lawmakers, if she were to win. But again, there’s virtually no chance of a Republican winning the seat.
Tuesday’s winner will face a new challenge: surviving a second primary. Maryland Board of Election officials told Vox that Seventh District voters will be given two ballots on April 28, one that features both local and federal primary candidates, and another for the special general election. Officials have not yet worked out which will be presented first, but should the special ballot be presented first, voters may be influenced by seeing the same name twice.
This April election is expected to have high turnout, unlike the special primary election, and the large number of voters who come out for this contest but skipped Tuesday’s could change the dynamics of the race — as could any scandals or shifts in momentum that occur between now and then. It’s not impossible, then, that the Seventh District might send one Democrat to Washington for the rest of the year, and a different one next year.