Front-runners sprint to finish in Maryland’s Democratic primary race

WASHINGTON — A new poll has U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen with a double-digit lead over U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards in the two Maryland Democrats’ race to fill the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Barbara Mikulski.

The Washington Post reports that the latest poll from Monmouth University shows Van Hollen getting the support of 52 percent of likely Democratic voters, compared with 36 percent for Edwards.

This week, WTOP spoke to both candidates as they campaigned in Montgomery County.

Each candidate was asked about their priorities, and in many ways the rivals sound very similar.

Van Hollen on the connection between education and jobs: “We need to expand economic opportunity in this country. This means making sure each child gets the very best education and best start in life.”

On the same topic, Edwards responded, “Goal number one: creating jobs and opportunity all across the income spectrum. And that means having an education system that works,” she says, at all levels from  K-12 through college. Edwards added, “It means balancing the jobs that are available in the technology sector with the kind of skills that we’re producing.”

Van Hollen and Edwards agree on the issue of pay equity.  Edwards says equal pay for women is needed “because that will improve the economic prospects not just for women, but for their families and their children.”

Van Hollen agrees with the need for equal pay, and adds that he wants to see a change to the tax code. “Right now we have a tax code that works great for people who make money off of money,” Van Hollen said, referring to those who work in the finance sector, or who have investments. The current tax code, he said, is “stacked against people who earn a check through hard work.” Edwards also wants the tax code tweaked to provide incentives for domestic manufacturing.

The fight between Edwards and Van Hollen has gotten testy at times, with the White House getting involved when a super PAC ad supporting Edwards used President Obama’s image.

The Obama administration objected, as it suggested an endorsement for Edwards over Van Hollen. The ad itself did not come directly from the Edwards campaign, but her campaign did run a TV ad that touched on the topic in the super PAC spot, suggesting that Van Hollen had “caved” to the National Rifle Association on a bill that called for more campaign finance transparency.

The issue of race has cropped up in the campaign, with Edwards, an African-American, saying there’s a need for a different perspective in the U.S. Senate, where there are just two black senators and 20 women.

“As a single mom — I raised my son from the time he was about three years old on my own — I understand some of the challenges that our families are facing. And I think that that is a perspective that is missing from the United States Senate,” Edwards said.

While Edwards says she offers a unique and underrepresented perspective, Van Hollen has been getting a number of endorsements from African-American leaders. “Places like Colmar Manor, places like Mt. Ranier, places like North Brentwood — all African-American women mayors,” Van Hollen says. “They’re endorsing me in this race, because I work with them to get funds for community centers, funds for transportation projects.”

Edwards and Van Hollen both have packed schedules as they criss-cross the state looking for votes. Asked about the impact of early mornings and late nights, both joked about the abundance of food and lack of sleep. Van Hollen said, “I’m putting on a couple of pounds — not enough time to get exercise. But thank goodness for coffee and the ability not to sleep a whole lot sometimes!”

Edwards says she looks for coffee on the campaign trail, and when it comes to lack of sleep, she said, “We’ll sleep on April 27!”

The primary is April 26. The polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

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