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Kweisi Mfume wins special election primary for Elijah Cummings' seat

APTOPIX Special Election Maryland Primary
Kweisi Mfume, Democratic nominee for Maryland's 7th Congressional District, raises his fist at a victory party, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Baltimore. Gail Burton / AP

Kweisi Mfume defeated a crowded Democratic field in Tuesday's special election primary for the late Congressman Elijah Cummings' seat in Maryland's 7th Congressional District. There were 24 Democratic candidates on the ballot for the 406,000 eligible voters in the district, which encompasses parts of Baltimore city, Baltimore County and Howard County.

Kimberly Klacik won the Republican nomination in a field of eight with 40% of the vote and will face Mfume in a special general election on April 28. But the signs point to a Mfume victory, since this district has been held by a Democrat since 1953 and more than 80% of registered voters are Democrats.  

It's a political comeback for Mfume, who held the same seat from 1987 to 1996, retiring from Congress in order to become the president of the NAACP. Cummings then won and served for 20 years. Mfume touted his experience with Congress at his election night watch party, where two of Cummings' sisters were in attendance. 

"You've got to get on a plane next week — you don't want to get on with someone just out of aviation school. You want someone who has flown over and over again," he said.

Both Mfume and Klacik won more than 40% of their respective party's votes. Klacik is best known for her videos showing poverty in West Baltimore, which led to President Donald Trump's own criticism of the city and of Cummings in July 2019. 

More than 72,000 votes were cast, a turnout rate of just 17%, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections. St. Mary's College of Maryland political science associate professor Todd Eberly said the nature of the special election primaries point to lower turnout, but said this week's busy news cycle could also have been a factor.

"You've also got an election being caught up in larger news stories. Whether it be the impeachment of a president or the Iowa caucuses that people were paying more attention to. I think all of those things sort of point to this being a very low turnout primary," Eberly told CBS News before results were announced. 

In addition to Mfume, some of other Democratic candidates included Elijah's widow Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, longtime Cummings aide Harry Spikes and state legislators Jill Cater, Jay Jalisi and Talmadge Branch. 

Mfume served as Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in his fourth term, and after leaving Congress in 1996, was head of the NAACP until 2004. The Baltimore Sun reported that Mfume was voted out of his position due to a sexual harassment complaint, which he has denied, and he said the only mistake he made was dating a coworker. 

Maryland's special general election and regular district primaries are on the same day, April 28. So, the winner of the special general election must also win the regular primary nomination, in order to advance to the November general election. Current primary candidates have two days to decide whether to withdraw from the general primary ballot. 

"It's possible someone could win this seat in April, but not get renominated and basically only hold the seat until January [2021]," Eberly said. 

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