BALTIMORE (AP) — Democrat Kweisi Mfume won a special election Tuesday to finish the term of the late Elijah Cummings, retaking a Maryland congressional seat Mfume held for five terms before leaving to lead the NAACP.
Mfume defeated Republican Kimberly Klacik in the heavily Democratic district.
Maryland opened just three polling stations Tuesday and sent ballots weeks in advance to encourage mail voting amid health concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, thousands of Wisconsin primary voters waited hours outside overcrowded polling stations, and Maryland’s contest could be a test for future races in a key election year.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 4-1 in the majority-black 7th Congressional District, which includes a significant portion of the city of Baltimore, as well as parts of Baltimore and Howard counties. The diverse district includes parts of Baltimore that have struggled with poverty and violent crime, as well as more affluent areas and landmarks such as Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Mfume supports stronger gun-control measures, such as reauthorizing a federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2005. Baltimore had 348 homicides last year — the fifth straight year topping 300 — making it the city’s most violent year ever per capita.
Mfume also is focusing on the root causes of crime, such as the inability of young adults to find jobs. He advocates for greater support for apprenticeships to develop skills for young people to find work.
Mfume’s victory means he will at least serve the rest of Cummings’ term until January. It also means Mfume, 71, will run as an incumbent in Maryland’s June primary to be the nominee for a full term in November.
Mfume held the seat for five terms from 1987 to 1996 and was chairman of the NAACP from 1996 until 2004. The NAACP is based in Baltimore.
The 7th district received national attention last year when President Donald Trump referred to it on Twitter as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” At the time, Cummings was the powerful House Oversight Committee chairman, leading multiple investigations of the president.
Trump’s tweets also followed an appearance by Klacik on the Fox News network’s program “Fox & Friends,” which invited her on the show to discuss her social media posts showing trash in Baltimore. Klacik, a Baltimore County Republican Central Committee member, had campaigned on economic development and helping struggling parts of Baltimore through a federal “opportunity zones” program.
The district includes an area in Baltimore that had the highest number of reported coronavirus cases in the state for weeks. Democratic lawmakers have been sounding the alarm over the virus killing African Americans at a higher rate.
“It’s almost like being attacked by the virus and having someone tie your arm behind your back, because you can’t fight back the way you should,” Mfume, who spent several years at the National Institutes of Health Council for Minority Health Disparities, said of health challenges in the black community.
In the June 2 primary, Mfume will face many of the same opponents he defeated in February. The primary was originally scheduled for April but was postponed by Gov. Larry Hogan in response to the virus. Voters will again be urged to vote by mail.