Former Del. Heather Mizeur could just be toying with the idea. But the smart money is on that she will enter the race for Senate.
Heather is a skilled campaigner and enjoys it. Her first campaign for delegate in 2006 was the best I saw that year. Beyond being media savvy, Heather knew exactly what she had to do to win–and did it. Despite losing her long-shot bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2014, she raised her profile and established herself in the eyes of many voters as a progressive leader.
The clear niche that Heather would try to fill is that she is the new Barbara Mikulski–the progressive woman we want in the Senate. Voters liked Mikulski so that’s not a bad place to be in a race in which voters with many ideologically similar candidates.
In the gubernatorial primary, Heather did a good job of positioning herself as a different sort of politician who didn’t want to bicker and simultaneously represented the progressive, left-wing of the Democratic Party. In short, she ran as an outsider running against the establishment candidates. The chance for Heather to be the first LGBT governor only enhanced that profile.
However, Heather is in many ways a consummate political insider. First, she served on the Democratic National Committee. The DNC is about an insider as it gets. Second, she was a two-term member of the House of Delegates. Third, she worked as Sen. John Kerry’s Director of Domestic Policy and Rep. Joseph Kennedy’s Legislative Director. Finally, her professional life is as a federal lobbyist.
Not exactly an outsider resume and I don’t think her opponents will let her get away easily as casting herself as such. At the same time, Mizeur’s benefits from insider status will go only so far. Exactly one of her colleagues in the General Assembly endorsed her gubernatorial bid–and none from her own district. She ticked off royally many influential players with her opinion piece in the Sun just before the general election.
Interestingly, former Del. Heather Mizeur’s last full state campaign finance report showed around $194,000 in the account even though she lagged far behind Doug Gansler and Anthony Brown in spending. The only subsequent report was an affidavit attesting that she neither raised nor spent more than $1000. That leaves her with much more money than, say, Rep. Donna Edwards.
While her bank balance is a nice start, it is well below that of other candidates already or likely to enter the race. (UPDATE: Several readers have explained to me that she cannot use the money in her state account for the federal race, so she starts with nothing.) She would not be able to match the fundraising of people like Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. John Delaney. Nonetheless, she might gain significant backing from LGBT money and the Victory Fund.
While I am sure Heather greatly expanded her network in her 2014 run, it may be hard to get some people to open their wallets so quickly again. Heather beat expectations in 2014 but still ended up in third place with 22% of the vote. She would need to prove me wrong on fundraising to be competitive.
Expanding Her Support
Sitting here in front of my computer, I’m having trouble seeing how Mizeur expands her support base. Would voters who cast ballots for Brown or Gansler who would turn to Mizeur in a Senate race? Do even white voters who supported Brown partly due to O’Malley’s support jump to Heather? Or do they go to someone else?
Additionally, the Democratic primary electorate in 2016 may be somewhat less progressive than in 2014. The lower the participation, the more left-wing the voters usually are in a Democratic primary. Fewer people usually participate in off-year rather than presidential elections.
An even bigger problem for Mizeur will be that other candidates will lay claim to the progressive mantle. In particular, Rep. Donna Edwards may gain their affection, as she won election to the U.S. House as a progressive outsider. Progressives may also be comfortable with a variety of other candidates.
Heather is an excellent campaigner so I thought she would do better than expected in 2014. I am less confident that would be true in the 2016 Senate race. Still, she is adroit and knows how to skillfully take advantage of opportunities. While I see her more as an underdog than top-tier candidate, Heather Mizeur will have her fervent supporters and could surprise.