BALTIMORE (AP) -- Some incumbent Democrats have felt heat this election cycle as they faced self-styled progressive challengers from the left. Ben Cardin, a popular and well-funded U.S. senator in Maryland, was never one of them.
On Tuesday, Cardin handily won a primary in his bid for a third Senate term, beating convicted leaker Chelsea Manning and six other longshot challengers.
Celebrating in Baltimore, Cardin told The Associated Press he's humbled by the "overwhelming vote of trust" from Maryland's Democrats. He was already looking forward to the campaign for November's general elections. Eleven Republican candidates campaigned for their party's nomination.
"I'm confident, but I'm going to run a very aggressive campaign, taking nothing for granted," he said in a phone interview. "I look forward to learning who my Republican opponent will be."
The Democratic primary was never widely perceived as a competitive contest. There were no debates, few candidate forums and hardly any polling.
Manning, America's most famous convicted leaker and an internationally-known transgender activist, ran an unorthodox and largely under-the-radar grassroots campaign. Cardin's highest-profile challenger, Manning sought to gain traction by arguing that the sitting senator had been an establishment Democrat in Washington for so long that he'd lost the plot.
Her candidacy failed to resonate with many voters in a blue state that's home to federal employees and defense contractors. She made few appearances in Maryland. Her platform included closing prisons, freeing inmates and eliminating national borders. Her major goal was abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Days after tweeting in May that the primaries were "rigged" and there was no point in voting, Manning made headlines after a photo on her Twitter account apparently showed her on an upper-story window ledge. Kelly Wright, a friend who also served as her campaign communications director, told the AP at the time that Manning needed "space to heal" but would still run.
On Tuesday night, Manning issued a statement saying her campaign "advanced an anti-authoritarian agenda" with ideas she wanted to push "into the mainstream and onto the ballot." She described her Senate bid as part of a "growing political insurrection."
Manning also disclosed Tuesday that she had to step back from campaigning to prioritize her health. "I found the space and the treatment I need to heal, with close friends by my side to provide love and support," she said.
Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said there was never much of a push to unseat Cardin in Maryland. She said that outside of "some hardcore progressive communities who wanted him out," Cardin remained popular among state Democrats and was on the progressive side on a number of issues.
Political analysts say Cardin will be a tough candidate to beat in November for more reasons than his campaign war chest -- reported at $2.8 million in early June. He has major name recognition in Maryland -- he served 20 years in the U.S. House before becoming a senator in 2006 -- and his national profile has only grown during the Trump administration.
Cardin said he believes Maryland voters "want a Congress that can stand up to President Trump in regards to the values of this nation."
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