By David Sherfinski
June 24, 2018
Government leaker and transgender rights advocate Chelsea Manning entered the U.S. Senate race in Maryland to huge fanfare this year, but her campaign is poised to wind down quietly Tuesday when voters head to the polls on primary day.
Ms. Manning promised to shake up the race, using her high profile to push a platform that included creating a universal health care system, abolishing federal law enforcement agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and combating what she called the American “police state.”
But the strain of being in the public eye after seven years in prison for leaking secrets took its toll, friends and advocates say, compounded by the attacks she has faced during the campaign.
That culminated in a strange episode late last month when she made several posts on social media suggesting that she was contemplating suicide, before a tweet from her account later said she was safe.
Campaign spokeswoman Kelly Wright told The Associated Press after the incident that the candidate needed “space to heal” but that she had not suspended her campaign to unseat Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin in the Democratic Party primary.
Still, she has been out of the public eye and took what she said was a “long-overdue break from Twitter” at a time when voters are making up their minds.
Glenn Greenwald, a friend of Ms. Manning and co-founder of The Intercept, said her entrance into the race compounded the difficult adjustment she has had after her time in prison.
“That has created a lot of hatred and animosity toward her on the part of Democratic Party loyalists who directed a lot of bile and hatred at her, which to be honest is fair game once you announce that you’re going to run as a major candidate,” he said in an interview last month with Democracy Now.
“But I think it’s clear that she wasn’t really prepared for that. She wasn’t really ready for that,” he said.
Ms. Manning’s campaign did not respond to phone messages and emails seeking comment.
But even in the best of environments for an insurgent-style campaign, any candidate would have a tough time unseating Mr. Cardin, a two-term Democrat who has 50 years of experience as a federal and state lawmaker in Maryland.
Mr. Cardin said he is confident heading into the Tuesday primary and that top concerns he has been hearing from residents include health care, prescription drug costs, jobs, the environment and health of the Chesapeake Bay, and the effect President Trump is having on America’s values.
A Goucher College poll released in February, soon after Ms. Manning announced her candidacy, showed Mr. Cardin with a 61 percent to 17 percent lead over her.
A Zogby poll conducted in March on behalf of Jerome Segal, another Democratic challenger, showed Mr. Cardin with about 50 percent support; 38 percent were undecided, and Ms. Manning was the closest challenger at 3 percent.
Mr. Cardin acknowledged Ms. Manning’s national name recognition but deferred comment to her campaign on why she hasn’t managed to gain more traction.
“I have not seen her on the campaign trail at all. I’ve never met her, and I’m out every day,” he said.
She also has struggled to find financial backers, raising just $81,361 for her campaign through June 6. Mr. Cardin raised nearly $4 million this year.
Known as Pvt. Bradley Manning when arrested in 2010, she was convicted in 2013 on espionage and theft charges for leaking government secrets to WikiLeaks.
She came out as a transgender woman in 2013 while serving in an all-male federal prison in Kansas. She tried to kill herself at least twice while behind bars, her attorney said.
Her fight for better conditions as a woman in a male prison became a major cause for the gay rights community.
She was released from prison in May 2017 after President Obama commuted her 35-year sentence to time served.
Yet many in the military and national intelligence communities still consider her a traitor for leaking thousands of documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a military analyst.
Harvard University announced in September that she would be a visiting fellow for the academic year — only to quickly reverse course after a swift backlash, including criticism from then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Ms. Manning has staked out a fiercely liberal platform, demanding an overhaul of the federal prison system, abolishing the immigration enforcement agencies and instituting a universal basic income.
She also called for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to be abolished, saying it “acts merely as a rubber stamp for the government in an attempt to provide an illusion of oversight and checks and balances behind a wall of secrecy.”
Maryland is a deeply Democratic state, but analysts said that doesn’t mean it is ready to embrace calls for open borders or disbanding entire police departments.
“Maryland is Democratic — Maryland has not historically been progressive,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Ms. Manning also doesn’t seem to have done the retail politicking that is needed to gain traction in a statewide campaign, said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College in Baltimore.
“The issue with her candidacy and other candidacies is it’s difficult to run a statewide race, period,” Ms. Kromer said.
Ms. Manning, along with Mr. Segal and Rikki Vaughn, another Democratic challenger to Mr. Cardin, co-authored a June 7 piece in The Washington Post saying the incumbent should debate his Democratic opponents.
“Not one progressive organization in the state has endorsed any candidate in the primary,” they wrote. “And while multiple debates were scheduled for the gubernatorial race, not one civic organization, or media organization and not the Democratic Party itself proposed a debate between us and Cardin.”
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