Chris Van Hollen has been a state delegate, a state senator and a U.S. representative for Maryland’s 8th District.
Now, he’s seeking to step in to retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s seat.
He knows the position. Before Mikulski, it belonged to Frederick County Republican Charles “Mac” Mathias, for whom Van Hollen worked early in his political career.
“He’s a good role model for the type of person that’s willing to work across party lines to get things done,” Van Hollen said.
He points out bipartisan legislation in Congress that he’s worked on, including whistleblower protections for federal workers and the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act, which helps families of disabled children establish tax-free savings accounts to support them.
Van Hollen has championed legislation that ended higher profit margins on student loans, and, as a member of the Democratic leadership team, helped pass the economic recovery bill in 2009.
In his run for Senate, he has released specific plans relating to foreign policy, gun violence, criminal justice and education, along with a three-page economic action plan. The plan would raise the minimum wage, increase tax credits for working families, end gender-based wage gaps and guarantee earned paid sick leave.
Van Hollen called the plan a whole set of economic policies “that make it easier for struggling families to get by.”
“I want to make sure that we have an economy that works for everybody, meaning not just the folks at the very top. We need an economy that allows everybody to make a living wage and a living income,” he said.
Szeliga has said she doesn’t support a mandated increase in the federal minimum wage.
The candidates also differ on abortion. Van Hollen supports abortion rights, while Szeliga is a strong supporter of anti-abortion legislation.
Van Hollen’s family is originally from Baltimore, but he grew up in South Asia, where his parents worked as U.S. government officials.
“The thing about growing up overseas is that, while I was very proud to be part of a family representing the United States, it also causes you to hold up a mirror to the United States and ask yourself, ‘Are we really measuring up to your promise of equal rights and equal justice and equal opportunity?’” he said. “I’ve been very motivated over the years to make sure that the United States lives up to its own promises.”
Van Hollen didn’t follow his parents’ footsteps and pursue a career in the foreign service.
“I saw elected office as an opportunity to listen to people in the community and translate our priorities and values into action, into real results,” he said. “In my view, it’s never been enough to talk about these issues. There’s plenty of hot air to go around. We need to be focused on delivering results for Americans and Marylanders.”
Van Hollen was the victor in a hard-fought primary campaign this year against another popular Democrat, Donna Edwards.
In recent polls, Van Hollen has significantly outpaced Szeliga in the polls.
In new poll numbers released this week by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland, 58 percent of likely voters said they favored Van Hollen, compared with 29 percent who support Szeliga.
He also has an advantage in fundraising, which has become a contentious issue in the campaign.
Van Hollen supports campaign finance reform and is the sponsor of the DISCLOSE (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections) Act. The act would require corporations and other special interests to disclose contributions of $10,000 or more within 24 hours, disclose their support in ads and to shareholders, and require lobbyists to disclose campaign-related expenditures in conjunction with their lobbying activities.
He has criticized Szeliga’s acceptance of money from the Citizens United Political Action Committee.
Szeliga, meanwhile, has criticized the significant fundraising on the Democratic side of the race, including from political action committees.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than 10 percent of Van Hollen’s donations came from lobbyists and attorneys.
Szeliga’s campaign has also criticized Van Hollen for being a “career politician” paid by taxpayers since he was first elected to Annapolis 25 years ago. According to Szeliga’s campaign, he has been paid more than $2.7 million as a legislator since 1991.
Van Hollen is endorsed by Mikulski, and he has promised to carry on her legacy.
“She’s a get-it-done type of person and so am I,” he said. “I’m interested in results, not talk.”
The general election is Nov. 8. Green Party candidate Margaret Flowers is also on the ballot.