Democrat Jamie Raskin, an outspokenly liberal member of the Maryland Senate for the past decade, Tuesday was overwhelmingly elected as the next member of Congress from the 8th District.
With all but a handful of precincts reporting late Tuesday, Raskin, a Takoma Park resident who is a professor of constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law, held a 59-36 percent lead over Republican nominee Dan Cox, a Frederick County attorney. The 8th District has been represented for the past 14 years by Democrat Chris Van Hollen, who Tuesday easily won election to the open Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Barbara Mikulski.
“We must not be enemies,” Raskin said in his victory speech in Silver Spring. “We don’t want a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and we don’t want a wall between Democrats and Republicans, or between anyone else in America.”
Once Raskin emerged as the winner of a nine-way District 8 Democratic primary last April, the outcome of Tuesday’s general election in the 8th District was never in doubt. The district has a 2-1 Democratic registration edge, and, in the Montgomery County portion—where about two-thirds of its voters live—the Democratic advantage approaches 4-1. Raskin won the Montgomery County section of the district Tuesday by close to that margin, even as Cox was carrying the Carroll County and Frederick County portions of the 8th.
In fact, even before the polls closed, Montgomery County Democrats were devising a schedule for naming a replacement for Raskin as the state senator from Silver Spring/Takoma Park-based District 20, which is likely to be a far more intense battle than Raskin faced in winning Tuesday’s general election.
A Nov. 17 forum in Silver Spring has been scheduled to hear from prospective candidates for the Senate opening, with the choice of a successor to be made at a Dec. 13 meeting of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. Raskin is expected to resign his Senate seat effective in early December, once the results of the congressional race are officially certified.
With the seat open due to Van Hollen’s pursuit of the Senate, Republicans briefly tried to recruit a competitive candidate into the 8th District race. But a couple of contenders who might have filled the bill—Bethesda attorney Bill Day and Chevy Chase attorney James Calderwood, who holds a part-time post in the administration of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan—decided to take a pass in late 2015 and early 2016, respectively, leaving the GOP without a candidate who could attract sufficient funding to mount a credible campaign.
Cox came out on top of a five-person field in the Republican primary, capturing 44 percent of the vote and winning the Montgomery County as well as the Carroll County and Frederick County portions of the district. But while seeking to capitalize on voter frustration over traffic congestion on I-270 in the general election, Cox raised little money—just over $60,000, with about one-third of that out of his own pocket—and ran a hardline conservative campaign out of step with the Democratic-dominated district. He pledged if elected to join the Freedom Caucus, the tea party wing of House Republicans, and, at one point, charged—inaccurately—that Raskin had received the endorsement of the Communist Party USA.
Raskin grew up in Washington area, the son of Marcus Raskin, a one-time Kennedy administration official who later founded a left-leaning think tank, the Institute for Policy Studies, and became a leading critic of the Vietnam War. After graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Jamie Raskin returned to the D.C. area to teach at American University’s Washington College of Law, where he has been on the faculty for more than a quarter of a century.
His career in electoral politics was launched in 2006 when he ousted an entrenched incumbent, state Sen. Ida Ruben, in the Silver Spring/Takoma Park-based District 20. During his decade in the Senate, Raskin has been noted for his leadership on liberal social initiatives—including successful efforts to abolish the death penalty, permit same-sex marriage, and legalize medical marijuana.
Raskin contemplated running for state attorney general in 2014, but ultimately decided against doing so—and convinced his friend and fellow state senator, Brian Frosh of Chevy Chase, to run instead. Raskin hoped to inherit Frosh’s old job as chairman of the influential Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the 2015 session of the Maryland General Assembly, but was passed over for that post by state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller—an Annapolis institution with whom Raskin had had an up-and-down relationship.
While said by acquaintances to be deeply disappointed that he did not receive the Judicial Proceedings gavel, opportunity landed at Raskin’s door barely 10 weeks later, in March 2015—when veteran Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced her retirement, and Van Hollen quickly announced for the open Senate seat. Raskin wasted little time in sending out the word that he would run to succeed Van Hollen.
For a time, the race for the 8th District Democratic congressional nomination—which ultimately attracted nine contenders—seemed to be a contest among Raskin, former House of Delegates Majority Leader Kumar Barve, and former local TV news anchor and Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews. By the fall of 2015, Barve had faded amid lackluster fundraising, and it appeared to be largely a Raskin vs. Matthews contest.
Then, in a surprise shortly before the February 2016 filing deadline, businessman David Trone—the multimillionaire co-owner of Total Wine & More, a national retail chain—jumped into the contest. Before it was all over, Trone would set a record for a self-funded House candidate by spending $13.4 million of his own money. All told, more than $20 million was spent on the District 8 Democratic primary, with Raskin expending about $1.9 million, behind Matthews with nearly $2.75 million.
In contrast to Trone’s and Matthews’ heavy TV ad buys, Raskin boasted of an extensive grassroots network. It appeared to pay off on Primary Day, as he captured many of the precincts in the heavily populated communities along the county’s southern border, extending from Bethesda through Chevy Chase to his home base of Silver Spring and Takoma Park. Raskin garnered a little less than 34 percent of the primary vote, with Trone coming in at 27 percent and Matthews at 24 percent.