OCEAN CITY — Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-District 8) says there are a lot of similarities between he and US Senator Barbara Mikulski. That’s why he believes he is the man to replace the retiring political icon in November.
In the race to win the US Senate seat held by the longest tenured female in our country’s history, Democrat Chris Van Hollen hopes to earn support for Eastern Shore voters by showcasing some of those same qualities that made “Senator Barb” so likeable here on the coast.
“I want to assure people that if elected, we are going to adopt the Mikulski model when it comes not only the state of Maryland, but also the Eastern Shore,” he said while sipping coffee in a midtown Ocean City breakfast spot last Tuesday.
After Hurricane Gloria ravaged the coastline in Ocean City in 1985, Van Hollen, who was working in the governor’s office at the time, helped put together the plan that became known as the Beach Replenishment Project. Since its inception, the program has been credited with saving over a billion dollars’ worth of coastal real estate from storm damage via the natural levee forged by the sand dune system along the 10 miles of Ocean City coastline.
“I do believe that all politics are local, and with beach replenishment, that proves that we realize the vital importance for Ocean City and its tourism industry,” he said. “That’s why I like coming down here for Maryland Municipal League (MML) each year. You really get to see the local response and learn about the issues that are facing the people of this region.”
Van Hollen has been working alongside State Senator Jim Mathias and Mikulski and Seantor Ben Cardin to remedy what he called the “FEMA maps situation” that has created a huge headache and skyrocketed insurance premiums for a handful of oceanfront condominium owners after FEMA made a mistake in the drawing of the flood zone maps in the resort.
“It has been a bit of a mess, but it’s not the first time I’ve been down here trying to get things done for the shore,” he noted. “I worked closely with Senator Mikulski after Hurricane Sandy as well.”
Van Hollen knows that many politicians, especially Democrats, have been hesitant to campaign on the Eastern Shore because of its longstanding allegiance and voting record for Republican candidates and for the “sheer numbers” that the amount of votes won on the shore may not play a significant role in the winning of a political race.
Yet, Van Hollen says he’s never looked at the Eastern Shore that way, and believes that even though this is a very difficult time to be a politician, pointing to the growing disdain for anyone that is deemed to be an “establishment politician”, he will continue to make the Eastern Shore part of his priorities.
“You have to get in front of people and talk to them,” he said. “I think there is a way to bring together our environmental groups and people from the agriculture industry who have been so divided in recent years. We can clean up the Chesapeake Bay and keep our farmers and our waterman working the land and the waterways effectively. I want to be the guy that brings people together.”
However, one thing that may not win him votes on the shore is his outspoken and rather progressive stance on gun control.
Van Hollen says the Eastern Shore is in a good position to attract manufacturing companies to the shore, and would be greatly improved with increased focus on better and stronger broadband accessibility.
“I think the State of Maryland, and the Eastern Shore in particular, is in a very good position for growth in the renewable energy industry as well,” he said.
Van Hollen defeated Rep. Donna Edwards in a heated primary contest in April that showed similar divides in the Democratic party as the presidential race has shown in the Republican party. Van Hollen won 53.2% of the vote in Maryland.
Van Hollen will now face Republican Kathy Szeliga, who won the primary with 35.6% of the vote, in November.
A recent poll published in the Huffington Post indicates Van Hollen has sizeable double digit lead over Szeliga as of press time.