Maryland voters head to polls in primary race to fill Elijah Cummings' seat

Maryland voters in the Baltimore area are heading to the polls Tuesday to choose who will be their party’s nominee to finish the rest of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings' term in Congress.

The race to fill the vacated seat is a crowded one, with 24 Democrats and eight Republicans vying for their parties’ nomination in the 7th Congressional District special primary. Given the heavily-Democrat makeup of the district, however, whoever wins the primary is expected to be the candidate to fill Cummings’ seat.

A special general election will take place on April 28 -- the same day that Maryland holds its statewide primary election in the 2020 presidential race. The candidate who wins the seat will serve out the remaining months of Cummings' term, while candidates who want to seek the seat after that had until Jan. 24 to file for the April 28 primary.

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The race to fill the seat has become something of a family battle as two of Cummings’ daughters have thrown their support behind Harry Spikes, a former staffer for Cummings -- despite Cummings’ second wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, also running.

“My sister and I are supporting Harry Spikes for Congress because for the past 15 years he’s worked alongside our father to meet the needs of the people of the [Maryland] 7th Congressional District,” Jennifer Cummings said in a letter obtained by The Washington Post in November.

Along with Spikes and Rockeymoore Cummings, Kweisi Mfume, a former NAACP president, is also running for the vacant seat. Mfume previously served as the district's congressman for five terms between 1987 and 1996.

“We remind people as much as we can that in this case I'm proven, tested and ready to go to work on Day 1,” the 71-year-old recently told The Associated Press.

State Sen. Jill Carter, whose district includes west Baltimore, portrays herself as the more progressive candidate. The 55-year-old described the primary as “very much a tug of war with a lot of the old guard.”

“I'm the new guard,” Carter said. “I think it speaks for itself, because my campaign drew a lot of very young people, and I'm not young, so my ideals mesh with their ideals.”

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Other Democrats include Del. Talmadge Branch, an east Baltimore state legislator, and Del. Terri Hill, whose district starts at Baltimore's southwestern border and runs through parts of Baltimore and Howard counties. Del. Jay Jalisi, whose district is northwest of the city in Baltimore County, is also running.

Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 4-1 in the majority-black district, which includes parts of the inner city that have struggled with drugs and violent crime, as well as more well-to-do communities in the suburbs.

For Republicans, candidate Kimberly Klacik has received attention after her social media posts showing trash in Baltimore prompted President Trump to tweet that the district is a “disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”

Liz Matory, who was the 2018 GOP nominee in a neighboring congressional district, also is running for the seat.

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Other Republican candidates are Christopher Anderson, James Arnold, Ray Bly, Brian Brown, William Newton and Reba Hawkins.

Cummings, who was 68, died in October at Gilchrist Hospice Care, a Johns Hopkins affiliate. As chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, he was one of the most powerful Democrats in Washington and played a key role in the House Democrats' ongoing efforts to impeach Trump.

Cummings' office said in a brief statement that he died "due to complications concerning longstanding health challenges." Cummings had been in ill health the past few years, navigating the Capitol in a motorized cart and using a walker.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.