“He’d have to be raising his money right now, and right after Benghazi he’d have to pull the trigger,” said the Maryland operative. “That’d be the absolute last moment to jump in.”
Ruppersberger, who thinks Cummings’s decision is coming soon, said he would immediately catapult to the front of the pack if he runs. “If Elijah would [run], I think he would be [the front-runner] based on the polling that I’ve seen,” he said. “He has a lot of name recognition in Prince George’s County.”
That’s another advantage cited by Cummings’s backers—he would bring a strong Baltimore base while Van Hollen and Edwards fight over the suburban vote. And, they say, he would cut into much of Edwards’ Prince George’s County base. Multiple operatives mentioned a late August forum in the county on the Voting Rights Act that included Cummings and Rep. John Lewis.
“He couldn't even get out of the room afterward,” Gansler said. “He was getting bombarded by people urging him to run for that seat.”
The operative with Maryland ties said Cummings was similarly impressed with the reaction. “‘I was amazed at the reaction I got in Prince George's County,’” he said Cummings told him. “‘The government workers there and the people who follow politics know my story. ... I don't campaign there, I don't run ads.’”
Geography aside, Cummings could be positioned to cut into two of Edwards’ biggest statewide targets—African-Americans and progressives. Maryland has yet to send an African-American to the Senate, and some feel Cummings would supplant Edwards as the preferred candidate among those who want to reach that milestone.
Edwards has long had a strained relationship with the Congressional Black Caucus. And while Edwards has tried to make herself the progressive favorite in the primary—earning the endorsements of several outside groups—Cummings comes with strong liberal bona fides of his own. He’s also close friends with progressive icon Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and the two have worked together on a number of issues.
Spokespeople for the campaigns of Van Hollen and Edwards did not comment for this story. But even Edwards’s team has publicly acknowledged Cummings’s strength. An internal poll released in August by the Edwards campaign, one which showed her with a narrow lead over Van Hollen in a head-to-head primary matchup, gave Cummings a rating of 65 percent favorable, 9 percent unfavorable, and the accompanying memo noted that he “is very popular.”
Without clear signals from the man himself, outsiders have been left to hazard guesses.
“It would absolutely change up the race, but victory would be far from assured for him,” said the Maryland operative. “My guess is after all this he concludes the timing just isn’t right.”
“He hasn't ruled it out, and he hasn't determined he's going to jump in yet,” Gansler said. “He's getting an enormous amount of pressure from people who want him to get into the race. … He would be extremely formidable.”