WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid enthusiastically endorsed Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen Friday for the U.S. Senate, an early attempt by a key Democrat to clear the field and avoid a divisive primary campaign to replace Maryland’s longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

“Not only would Chris Van Hollen be the best and most effective person for the job, I have no doubt that he is in the best and strongest position to make sure that this Senate seat remains in Democratic hands in a state that just elected a Republican governor,” Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement.

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Reid made his announcement only days after Mikulski announced her retirement and Van Hollen declared his intention to run to replace her.

A sizable number of other Democrats also are weighing a run for Mikulski’s seat, including Reps. Elijah Cummings, John Delaney, Dutch Ruppersberger and Donna Edwards, a favorite of progressives. Former NAACP President Ben Jealous is also reportedly eyeing the race, and other names mentioned include Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former lieutenant governor, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

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The winner of the Democratic primary in April 2016 would be the favorite to win the general election in the heavily Democratic state, although Republicans insist they will compete hard and point to their victory in the governor’s race last fall. But a crowded primary could leave the eventual nominee weakened, something Democratic leaders want to avoid in next year’s 2016 Senate elections, so they can focus instead on opportunities to pick up seats in states like Illinois and Wisconsin.

Van Hollen has served in the Democratic leadership in the House and is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. He has a reputation as a pragmatist, and some Maryland Democrats may be looking for a more liberal alternative. Van Hollen defended his liberal bona fides Friday in a radio interview, while also saying voters want a candidate who can get things done.

“I believe in a progressive agenda, and I believe in being effective in getting that progressive agenda through,” Van Hollen said on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU in Washington.
Associated Press writer Brian Witte in Annapolis contributed to this report.
Follow Erica Werner on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ericawerner.

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