News & Politics

My First Campaign: Chris Van Hollen

Photograph courtesy of Chris Van Hollen

“It was in 1990. I was at night law school at Georgetown. One of the pressing issues at that moment was the Supreme Court and the question of a woman’s right to choose. There was a law case called Webster before the court, a 5–4 decision, that took some bites out of Roe v. Wade. At that time, Maryland had a state law that very much restricted a woman’s right to choose. It created a lot of pressure in Maryland to change the law.

“It was all shoe-leather, grassroots politics. This campaign was literally around the kitchen table: my wife, Katherine; myself; and some neighbors and friends. That entire summer, I knocked on thousands of doors. And I must say, it’s always hard to get started, but once you get going, you actually get a little lift to your foot—once people knew you weren’t there to ask for money, they were grateful that you came by as part of the democratic process. I still have many good memories of people who invited me in for a glass of water, because I looked like I was about to crash!

“My wife and I designed all of our mailers—the main way you could communicate with people, since you don’t buy TV ads or radio ads for a state legislative race.

“Because these races have three delegates, you sometimes form a slate. Three of us joined together, and we called ourselves the Choice Team, since this was the issue—we were the pro-choice ticket. All three of us won in the House of Delegates. And then one of our very first orders of business in 1991 was to successfully change Maryland law.

“Election Night was in our backyard—we had gathered at our house and had a big celebration with all the people who had helped along the way.

“We had two firsts that year: Our Anna was born on August 18, and the primary election was in early September. It was pretty clear in the mailer photos that Katherine was pregnant. So one of the things people would ask as I would go door to door was when the baby was coming. We got no sleep, certainly during the last three weeks of the campaign.”

Benjamin Wofford
Staff Writer

Benjamin Wofford is a contributing editor at Washingtonian.