Maryland’s 7th Congressional District Special Election Preview
Tomorrow we will see the first results from the first Congressional special election since the Coronavirus pandemic began in the United States. This seat opened up after the death of Democrat Elijah Cummings last October. Cummings was an instrumental figure in both the Democratic Party and Maryland politics in general, representing this district since 1996 and chairing the House Oversight Committee. The district is largely based in the city of Baltimore but due to an odd-shaped gerrymander, extends to suburbs to the west and further exurbs to the north. Maryland currently has 6 Democrats and 1 Republican in Congress plus this vacancy.
This district seems very likely to continue the trend of electing Democrats, considering the strong Democratic nature of the district. Cummings was most recently re-elected by a margin of 76–21. While Cummings had a strong personal brand, it is worth noting that Hillary Clinton won by similar margins in 2016, well over-performing her statewide result. Only the 4th Congressional District was more Democratic.
The district is also 53% black and no Republican in Congress currently holds a majority-black district. Even a candidate like Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who vastly overperformed among black voters while winning re-election in 2018, still could not win the district, although he managed to only lose by 8 points, a 45 point swing from traditional margins.
All this puts into context the challenge which Republican nominee Kim Klacik will face in trying to win back the seat. Klacik rose to prominence in conservative circles after tweeting out photos of trash pileups in Baltimore neighborhoods. These photos led Donald Trump to lash out at Cummings on Twitter, prompting strong backlash. Klacik has seemed to be a decent campaigner and her online following has helped her raise a relatively large amount of money for a Republican in a deep blue district, but overall she is still at a massive disadvantage. Her opponent is Kweisi Mfume, who was the Representative for this seat before Cummings. Mfume left Congress to head the NAACP, keeping this position until 2004. However, the circumstances surrounding his exit have been a point of controversy, with allegations of sexual misconduct pushing him out of the position. Mfume’s primary win was a bit of surprise but his ability to stand out in a field of candidates that included more than 20 people shows the power that his name recognition has. Since winning the primary, Mfume has consolidated support and has raised considerably more money than before. However, there still is the chance that he could lose a less contested June primary for the full term.
Originally, Maryland’s regular primary was supposed to be concurrent with this special election, but Governor Hogan decided to push the full primary backwards due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead, this election will serve as primarily a vote by mail election. Every voter has been mailed a ballot and only those who are physically unable to receive a mail ballot will be able to vote in person. While holding one election this week and the rest in June seems odd, the move seems necessary as Maryland looks to figure out how to successfully run a mail ballot. Nathaniel Rakich of FiveThirtyEight found that just 4% of Maryland’s 2018 ballots were mail-in ballots, which could cause widespread issues with running a mail-in election . Already there have been reports of voters not receiving their ballots, and election officials being forced to send online ballots as a result. Needless to say, it’s important that Maryland have a trial run to avoid a mess like we saw recently in Wisconsin during their regular primary.
Overall, while the circumstances surrounding the election are odd, there isn’t much to suggest Mfume will be in any trouble. While I could see Klacik overperforming, it would be quite surprising if the margin is anything less than 30% in favor of Mfume.