When he isn’t working or campaigning, Rep. Chris Van Hollen likes to camp, fish or hike and bike on local trails with his family.
But with the 2016 election looming, the 57-year-old from Kensington said they “haven’t had a lot of time in the last couple months.”
Van Hollen, who has served as Maryland’s 8th District congressman since 2003, has spent more than a year vying for the state’s vacant Senate seat in wake of Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s retirement. After focusing in the House of Representatives on issues surrounding education, economic opportunity and, “just making sure everybody gets a fair shake,” he now hopes to continue this work if elected to the Senate on Nov. 8.
Growing up part-time overseas and part-time in the United States as the son of a foreign service officer and a Russian expert, Van Hollen said he began his career working with national security and foreign policy issues. He wasn’t “one of those people who thought of running from the day [he] was born,” Van Hollen said.
But later, as Van Hollen became more involved in his community and started a family in Montgomery County, his interest in the local school system led him to pursue a seat in the Maryland General Assembly in the 1990s.
“If [voters] look at my record, they’ll find a record of fighting for Maryland values and Maryland priorities since my very first days in public office,” Van Hollen said.
Van Hollen faces Maryland Delegate Kathy Szeliga in the race for the Senate. In an October poll conducted by the University of Maryland and The Washington Post, Van Hollen led Szeliga among likely voters 58 to 29 percent in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1.
The Senate is currently controlled by Republicans, with 54 Republican senators, 44 Democratic senators and two Independents.
Van Hollen served for four years in the House of Delegates and eight years in the Maryland Senate before his election to Congress. In 2002, he defeated incumbent Rep. Connie Morella after Democratic-led redistricting made the 8th District more competitive.
In Congress, Van Hollen — who is the ranking Democrat of the House Budget Committee — said he has worked to expand educational and economic opportunity, doing so whenever possible in a bipartisan way. He has teamed up with colleagues to pass bipartisan legislation protecting the Chesapeake Bay; expanding investments in infrastructure, including the Metro; and preventing retaliation against federal employees who come forward as “whistleblowers” about system abuses or wrongful spending, he said.
“I think we need more people who are willing to fight for their values and priorities but also are willing to look for common ground to move the country forward,” he said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Van Hollen said the biggest challenge facing the country is ensuring the economy benefits all Americans and “not just folks at the very top.” He noted he plans to focus on this in the Senate by working to improve early and K-12 education, implementing a debt-free college plan, investing in the country’s infrastructure and scientific research and closing loopholes in the tax code that serve special interests.
“There’s a lot of work to do on a lot of different fronts,” he said.
Van Hollen has also worked on legislation to support families with children with disabilities, and he fought Tea Party efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare funding in the Budget Committee. He also stressed the importance of supporting the state’s seniors and veterans.
Regarding the presidential race, Van Hollen said it is “really worrisome” that Szeliga has endorsed Donald Trump, calling him “probably the least qualified person ever to run for president.
“Unlike Gov. [Larry] Hogan, who put country over party in this election, my opponent has not,” Van Hollen said.
Maryland Delegate Al Carr, D-Montgomery, said Van Hollen has been his neighbor, his representative and his constituent. Van Hollen is a good communicator, down to earth and willing to “reach across the aisle” to get things accomplished, Carr said.
“He is someone who I believe is incredibly talented as a legislator,” Carr said. “He truly cares about his constituents.”
Van Hollen defeated Rep. Donna Edwards for the Democratic nomination in April. University of Maryland government and politics professor Michael Hanmer said the primary race was “tougher than most people thought,” which required Van Hollen to spend more time campaigning in areas such as Baltimore, where he was less known.
“When it comes time for the general election, you know, I think that’s going to pay off for him,” Hanmer said. “People will know him better, know more about his policies.”
Van Hollen has also supported “common sense gun legislation,” a woman’s right to choose, and “family-friendly” employment policies — all of which Szeliga has opposed, he said.
Van Hollen lives in Kensington with his wife, Katherine, and has three children: Anna, Nicholas and Alexander.
Anna Van Hollen said her father “fundamentally believes that government can be about really making positive changes in people’s lives.” She added that Van Hollen coached all three of his children’s soccer teams, enjoys sports and is an “intense board gamer” who never lets the kids win.