Chelsea Manning, the transgender former Army private who was convicted of passing sensitive government documents to Wikileaks, has filed to run for the U.S. Senate in Maryland, according to federal election filings.
Manning, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, would be challenging Democrat Sen. Ben Cardin, who has served two terms in the Senate and is up for re-election in November. Cardin is Maryland's senior senator and is considered an overwhelming favorite to win a third term.
Manning, 30, who is formerly known as Bradley Manning, was convicted in 2013 of the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Last year, then-President Barack Obama commuted Manning's sentence to time served, and she was released from a military prison in Kansas.
The news of Manning's filing caught Maryland's political class by surprise Saturday afternoon. It was first reported in a tweet by conservative media outlet Red Maryland.
Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has an extensive fundraising base within Maryland and is not considered particularly vulnerable to a challenge from within the state. However, an outside candidate with national name recognition, such as Manning, could tap a network of donors interested in elevating a progressive agenda.
Cardin's spokeswoman and the Democratic Party of Maryland declined to comment on Manning's filing.
Manning moved to Maryland after her release from prison. Since then, she has written for The Guardian and Medium on issues of transparency, free speech and civil liberties, transgender rights and computer security, according to her website.
Manning's statement of candidacy was filed with the Federal Elections Commission on Thursday. She is running as a Democrat and refers to Maryland as her "home state" on her website. The Democratic primary is scheduled for the end of June.
Manning's first column for The Guardian said Obama's election in 2008 was a political awakening for her. Manning wrote Obama left behind "hints of a progressive legacy," but very few permanent accomplishments.
"This vulnerable legacy should remind us that what we really need is a strong and unapologetic progressive to lead us," Manning wrote. "What we need as well is a relentless grassroots movement to hold that leadership accountable."
Evan Greer, campaign director of the non-profit organization Fight for the Future and a close supporter of Manning while she was imprisoned, said the news is exciting.
"Chelsea Manning has fought for freedom and sacrificed for it in ways that few others have," Greer wrote in an email. "The world is a better place with her as a free woman, and this latest news makes it clear she is only beginning to make her mark on it."
Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College, said Trump's unexpected rise to chief executive opened the door for political neophytes, such as Manning.
"My initial thought quite literally was, 'Donald Trump is president, Oprah Winfrey is the leading contender for Democrats in 2020, why the hell not Chelsea Manning in the U.S. Senate?' " he said
In today's polarized landscape, Manning could expand her following simply with a virulent anti-Trump message.
"We live in a world now where the old rules of politics don't seem to matter anymore," Eberly said. "We don't care about experience and qualifications. We seem to care about how a candidate makes us feel."
Judging from her past statements, Manning's brand could be one of "unapologetic progressivism, no compromise, take no prisoners," he said.
Manning enlisted in the military in 2007 and was deployed to Iraq two years later as an intelligence analyst, according to her website.
In 2010, Manning was arrested after she provided a trove of nearly 750,000 documents to Wikileaks that included documents about the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, State Department cables, and information about prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
Manning's high-profile leak drew media coverage around the world. U.S. officials said the material placed the lives of U.S. soldiers and Afghan informants at risk, but Manning said she had a duty to inform the public about how the U.S. was conducting its wars.
Three years later, Manning was convicted of multiple counts, including violating the Espionage Act, and received a lengthy sentence. While serving time at Ft. Leavenworth, Manning attempted suicide and went on a hunger strike, before the Army approved her for gender reassignment surgery.
Her case remains politically divisive. She has been lauded as a hero by some on the left but also decried as a traitor by many, including President Donald Trump.
Manning was born in Oklahoma City in 1987 and lived in the United Kingdom for four years, before eventually deciding to enlist in the Army.
Manning's felony convictions do not appear to bar her from running for Senate. The Constitution simply requires senators to be 30 years of age, citizens of the United States and residents of the state in which they are seeking office.