Senator Sarbanes?

With the retirement of Sen. Barbara Mikulski, scores of talented and ambitious politicians are weighing a bid for her seat. Here we take a look at one of them: Rep. John Sarbanes.


John Sarbanes is a telegenic, fairly young rank and file representative from the Baltimore area.

John Sarbanes is also the son of Paul Sarbanes, a political giant who held one of Maryland’s Senate Seats until 2006. (His brother Michael also ran for Baltimore City Council President in 2007.) As such he comes with instant name ID and a brand to lean on that’s particularly strong among white voters in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

The Sarbanes family is very prominent in the national Greek community, which can be a potent fundraising source, and a very active ethnic community in Maryland politics. It also doesn’t hurt that his father was from Salisbury on the Eastern Shore.

The only wrinkle in the ointment here is that Maryland has rejected some scions for higher office. Beyond Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend and Mark Shriver in 2002, Democratic voters more recently did not support Del. Jon Cardin’s bid for attorney general. However, Sarbanes is already a federal official, and these three hardly provide evidence of a definitive trend.

A Statewide District 

Sarbanes currently represents Maryland’s Third Congressional District, which due to it’s gerrymandered nature takes in parts of Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore Counties as well as pieces of Baltimore City. As such, Sarbanes has had the opportunity to be a presence across central Maryland.

He will however likely be strongest among white voters in the city of Baltimore and its suburbs. O’Malley’s decision to forego leaves Sarbanes poised to be the only white Democratic candidate from the Baltimore area–unless Dutch Ruppersberger dives into the race.


Sarbanes has often made campaign finance reform a key issue in his campaigns. In 2012, he forced himself to collect one thousand checks of $100 or less from first time donors within his district before he could unlock a $500,000 war chest of previously raised funds. His website says he expanded this program in 2014.

Such a model would not be viable in a statewide effort where budgets are expected to reach eight figures. How he balances his commitment to campaign finance reform with the realities of a bid for higher office will be an interesting dynamic to observe.

Overlap with other Candidates 

Few of the most prominent candidates considering the race would be able to chunk out the Sarbanes base among white voters in metropolitan Baltimore, although Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has historically enjoyed substantive support in the white precincts of Baltimore City.

How he expands beyond the 410 area code will be a quandary for Sarbanes to consider over the next few days.