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A very competitive Democratic primary for Senate is getting started in Maryland

Ben Cardin’s retirement sets up a wide-open primary in 2024.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland presides over a hearing about the recent rise in antisemitism and its threat to democracy, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on December 13, 2022, in Washington, DC. 
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Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

US Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, announced that he won’t seek reelection in 2024, paving the way for a competitive Democratic primary for a seat that is likely to remain in the party’s control.

Cardin, who has served in the Senate since 2007, announced his retirement in a video Monday, highlighting his efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay, to shore up small businesses during the pandemic, and to pass sanctions against human rights offenders.

While Democrats’ other prospects on the 2024 Senate map are grim, Cardin has expressed confidence that a Democrat will succeed him. The state hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1980, and there is only one Republican among the state’s eight-seat House delegation.

Maryland Republicans probably won’t break that streak given that the very popular former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump, has previously said he’s not interested in running, and the party doesn’t have any current elected officials with the same wide appeal. And there is a slate of potential Democratic contenders, some who already have national name recognition, establishment ties, or full campaign coffers. At least one Democrat has already announced their campaign.

“On the Democratic side, Maryland has a full bench of talent. This Cardin seat hasn’t been open for so long, so I think there’s a lot of excitement,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Goucher College poll, a major polling institution in Maryland.

We asked Kromer what she’s expecting from the race in 2024. Her answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What could the Democratic primary look like?

“We have Angela Alsobrooks, who is the Prince George’s County executive. Prince George’s County is huge. It’s incredibly populous and leans really heavily Democratic, so it’s basically the base of Maryland’s vote. We hear about David Trone, the [US] representative of the Sixth District [and the founder of Total Wine & More.] He can self-fund — that’s the big thing. There’s Councilman Will Jawando from Montgomery County. He released a video [announcing his Senate candidacy Tuesday].

“Alsobrooks, Trone, and also Johnny Olszewski, the Baltimore County executive — these are all individuals who have deep establishment ties. These are all individuals who have track records. And these are all individuals who have the understanding of statewide politics to wage and win a statewide campaign. It’ll be a hotly contested primary.

“I’ve heard mixed things about [Maryland US Rep.] Jamie Raskin. Obviously, his national profile has been raised because of his service on the January 6 committee. I think he’s really established himself as a standard bearer for American democracy. But the thing about Jamie Raskin is he’s also, through the January 6 committee, gained some power in the House. And he’s in a safe seat. His ambition may take him through leadership rather than through running for another office.”

Do Republicans have a path to capturing the seat?

“After the 2022 election here in Maryland, where the Republican Party decided to go with a Trump-endorsed candidate rather than follow its very clear path to building a coalition to victory, it’s difficult for me to identify a candidate right now among their elected ranks that could compete with any of the Democrats.

“In terms of the speculation about Hogan, it is — given all of his previous statements — very unlikely that he would run for Senate. You always leave the door open a slight crack for a two-term governor who left the office with a 70 percent approval rating. But from what I understand, he’s not interested.

“​​Hogan also understands the Maryland electorate as well as any political consultant. He would never get into a losing race unless he really saw a path to victory.

“You would need an exceptional candidate, very similar to Larry Hogan, on the Republican side to put together the Maryland math to win a statewide seat, particularly in a presidential election year with a closely contested Senate in terms of majority control.”

What issues might drive the race?

“We asked Marylanders what they wanted Wes Moore, the governor, to address in the first term. They said the usual things: crime and public safety, improving education, and bolstering economic conditions. There is an expectation that anybody [running for Senate] will have to address those issues.

“But that being said, Maryland was also on the forefront this last legislative session of codifying reproductive rights in our Constitution. And so if reproductive rights continue to be such a major issue, all the Democrats are going to believe the same thing. But that’s just another reason why the Republican candidate will have a tough time.”