Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) visited the University of Maryland on Thursday morning, just days before the state primary election Tuesday that could propel him toward a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Rep. Donna Edwards remains Van Hollen’s only competition in the Democratic primary to succeed Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who announced her retirement last spring after serving five terms. Van Hollen is leading the race by 16 percentage points among likely Democratic voters, according to a Monmouth University poll released Thursday.
Van Hollen stood outside Stamp Student Union surrounded by a group of about 15 student supporters, primarily former and current campaign interns, while he asked for student support in the upcoming primary.
Sophomore Cassidy Chassagne, who is running for a Student Government Association legislative position, spoke with Van Hollen about politics.
“He can have a friendly conversation with people — that’s a big deal,” the government and politics major said. Chassagne is running unopposed with the Bold Party to be a behavioral and social sciences college representative for the SGA. Van Hollen asked about the SGA election and said he was surprised there was no competition in it.
“I’m optimistic” Van Hollen will win, said Chassagne, who has worked on his campaign during school breaks. “But I’m going to be happy either way with a Democrat in November.”
Van Hollen spoke with The Diamondback about his support for college affordability and student debt, which he hopes to improve by expanding Pell Grants for low-income students and income payment programs for graduates, he said.
“It’s not the speeches or the rhetoric; [Marylanders] care about seeing real change in their neighborhoods,” Van Hollen said. He said that though he and Edwards tend to vote similarly, what sets him apart is his willingness to take action, form coalitions, reach across the aisle and speak with constituents.
He also said a top priority on his agenda is working on K-12 education throughout the state, particularly in Prince George’s County, and continuing to fight climate change across the nation. He recently proposed a bill to charge carbon polluters and return the revenues to American citizens.
“It takes away the primary argument that critics make about these proposals,” Van Hollen said. “When you put a price on carbon, [opponents say] that would lead to a rise in costs, but the dividend offsets them.”
Van Hollen also toured this university’s Technology Advancement Program building, including Startup Shell, a space for students to explore and create new business ventures. He saw 3-D printers in action and heard from students about their projects, including one company that brings chefs into people’s homes and another that is planning to revolutionize health care through a new digital system.
“Well, after our rocky start on our health-care exchange, that would be really good,” Van Hollen joked.
Though his stay on campus did not last more than an hour, Van Hollen said he hopes people will realize he can be the type of senator who continues Mikulski’s legacy.
“Barbara Mikulski was not only able to work on the big national issues, but what she’s also done is always remembered where she came from and focused on trying to deliver results at the neighborhood level,” Van Hollen said. “Those are things that make a difference in people’s lives, and I look forward to working in that Mikulski tradition.”