Kweisi Mfume, Kimberly Klacik win party primaries for Elijah Cummings' seat

BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 25: Former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-MD) speaks during funeral services for late U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings at the New Psalmist Baptist Church October 25, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. A sharecropper’s son who rose to

Democrat Kweisi Mfume and Republican Kimberly Klacik won the special primaries Tuesday for the Maryland congressional seat that was held by the late Elijah Cummings.

Twenty-four Democrats and eight Republicans were on the ballot for the Baltimore area 7th Congressional District primary. The majority-black district includes parts of the inner city that have struggled with drugs and violent crime as well as more well-to-do communities in the suburbs.

In a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 4 to 1, the Democratic nominee will be the heavy favorite heading into the April 28 special general election.

For Mfume, who stepped down in 1996 to lead the NAACP after serving five terms as a congressman, it's a chance to regain a seat he held more than 20 years ago.

“We remind people as much as we can that in this case I'm proven, tested and ready to go to work on Day 1,” the 71-year-old told The Associated Press before the primary.

His general election opponent, Klacik, received attention after her social media posts showing trash in Baltimore prompted President Donald Trump to tweet that the district is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”

Whoever wins the special election will serve the rest of Cummings' term through Jan. 3, 2021 and have to stand for reelection in November to keep the seat.

Cummings, who won 12 terms in Congress, died in October at age 68. The civil rights activist's legacy figured prominently in the minds of some voters.

“Those are big shoes to fill,” said Baltimore resident Kyle Baylor, who voted for former Cummings aide Harry Spikes.

Clarksville resident Laura Shovan, 50, said Cummings was "such an important part of our community.”

“It’s not just the seat. It’s that it was Elijah Cummings’ seat,” Shovan outside a polling site in Highland.

The crowded Democratic field included Cummings' widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, a former chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, as well as several state legislators who live in the district.

State Sen. Jill Carter, whose district includes west Baltimore, described the primary as “very much a tug of war with a lot of the old guard.”

“I'm the new guard,” Carter said. “I think it speaks for itself, because my campaign drew a lot of very young people, and I'm not young, so my ideals mesh with their ideals.”

Highland resident Joe Comberiate said the candidates’ position on abortion was important to him. He voted for Reba Hawkins, one of the Republicans who opposes it.

Comberiate said he believes it's difficult for his views to be represented in Congress because of the way districts have been gerrymandered, and in this district, Baltimore’s challenges tend to get most of the attention.

“I think it’s just important for people to vote because if you don’t vote, you’re never going to be represented in the way you’d like, even if you think your vote might not make a difference,” said Comberiate, 38.

Joi Chapman of Baltimore found the large number of candidates difficult to filter. She voted for Rockeymoore Cummings because she said she believes she is the most familiar with the late congressman’s views and policies.

“Because it’s not a big election, a lot of people are not going to drive out to vote,” Chapman, 31, said outside a polling site at a school. “We keep complaining about so many Republicans. If you want to see change, you’ve got to vote.”