Democrats hold a major electoral advantage in Maryland: State voters haven’t elected a Republican to the Senate in more than three decades.

That’s unlikely to change in 2022 as well-known and well-funded incumbent, Democrat Chris Van Hollen, takes on Chris Chaffee, a perennial candidate running a nearly-invisible campaign.

A September Goucher College Poll in partnership with The Baltimore Banner and WYPR reflects that dynamic: 56% of likely voters said they’ll cast their ballot for Van Hollen, while a third said they’ll vote for Chaffee. Another 8% were undecided.

The survey was conducted by telephone from Sept. 8-12; the likely voter sample has a margin of error of 3.5%.

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The results are hardly surprising, said pollster Mileah Kromer. “There’s just no evidence that Chaffee can pose a serious challenge,” she said, citing Van Hollen’s established profile and advantage as a Democrat, and Chaffee’s weak campaign presence.

Van Hollen is familiar to many voters: He represented Maryland’s 8th Congressional District for seven terms before winning the vacant seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski in 2016. The Montgomery County resident hails from a prominent Baltimore family and previously served as the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and as the House Democratic assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He cruised to victory in the July primary.

Chaffee won a split Republican primary field with 21% of the vote. It was the perennial candidate’s third Senate race: he came in second place in both the 2016 and 2018 Republican primaries. He won the 2014 Republican primary to represent Southern Maryland’s 5th Congressional District, and lost the general election to Rep. Steny Hoyer.

The Republican did not respond to multiple interview requests, nor did a spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party. Chaffee’s website says his family moved to Prince George’s County from Syracuse, New York, in the late ’60s and that he graduated from Bowie High School in 1980. Per the website, he is a small business owner, a grandfather and a practicing Catholic.

His website is scant on policies he would pursue in the Senate but features the occasional blog post, one of which described the overturning of Roe v. Wade as a great day for unborn children. “[T]hank you for returning the unborn rights,” it reads.

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The Republican’s website attributes inflation to President Joe Biden’s pandemic stimulus bills and his administration’s “stubborn policy on American oil and gas.” Leaders should “ensure energy independence which includes drilling and refining American oil.”

His website says it was paid for and authorized by Chris Chaffee for U.S. Senate; there are no state or federal campaign finance records for a political action committee by this name or other committees with Chaffee’s name.

The website includes a mailing address for donations made by check and a link to a PayPal account for donations made online. Chaffee’s social media pages — which show the candidate with Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, and engaging with Marylanders at fairs — also have posts depicting campaign signs that say they are funded by the Chris Chaffee for U.S. Senate political committee.

Maryland election law requires candidates to report all financial contributions.

Those occasional appearances won’t make much headway, Kromer said.

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“We just have not seen a lot of campaign activity from the guy. It’s not apparent to the average voter that he’s running,” she said, citing a lack of widespread ads and a functioning communications team. Such basic campaign infrastructure is needed to win any statewide race, especially in a state as blue as Maryland, where there are more than twice as many Democrats as there are Republicans, she said.

Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science and coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said that most political analysts viewed Larry Hogan, the term-limited governor who touted a “purple surfboard of support” after winning his second term, as the only Republican who had a shot at unseating Van Hollen.

“Whether it’s Chaffee or someone else, this is just not a winnable race. That’s just the reality of the Maryland terrain,” he said, adding that Van Hollen’s incumbency makes him an especially tough opponent.

The senator has more than $2.3 million on hand, according to his most recent campaign finance records filed in October. Although Van Hollen said he and his fellow Democratic federal lawmakers have made a lot of progress over the last six years, particularly through funding for infrastructure and pandemic relief measures under Biden, unfinished business is at the top of his mind as the election approaches. He has long called for the filibuster to be abolished, calling it anti-democratic.

Van Hollen serves on several Senate committees — appropriations; budget; foreign relations; and banking, housing and urban affairs. He said his top priority is economic empowerment, pointing to legislation he introduced to expand research at historically Black colleges and universities and direct investment, including the Reconnecting Communities Pilot grant. The federal program to revitalize communities disrupted by highways is based off legislation from him and Sen. Ben Cardin intended to target sites like West Baltimore’s Highway to Nowhere, a highway project that displaced 1,500 residents in predominately Black neighborhoods.

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Another form of economic empowerment is getting rid of secret money in politics, he said. Van Hollen has called for Citizens United, a landmark decision that reversed independent expenditure restrictions for corporations, to be overturned. He introduced the DISCLOSE Act, which would require corporations spending money in federal elections to publicly name their donors.

The Democrat also introduced federal legislation to create funding to dispatch mental and behavioral health professions instead of law enforcement officers to certain emergency calls, a measure that was influenced by Mayor Brandon Scott’s 911 diversion pilot.

Speaking about far-right Republican candidates running for statewide office, naming gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox and attorney general candidate Michael Peroutka, he noted that Maryland is not a Trump state. Although Hogan easily won a second term in 2018, the former president failed to pass muster with the majority of state voters in the 2016 and 2020 general elections.

“You’ve got people who are cheering on insurrectionists and become apologists for insurrectionists, and that is just way out of touch with where the center of gravity is in the state of Maryland,” he said.

The election is Nov. 8.