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Will espionage history hamper WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning's plans to run for senate?

18 May, 2017: Chelsea Manning, the transgender US Army soldier responsible for a massive leak of classified material, poses for the first time since she was released from prison Chelsea Manning/CC BY-SA/Reuters

Chelsea Manning wants to become a US senator. The former US soldier, who was convicted of leaking nearly 750,000 sensitive documents to WikiLeaks, has reportedly filed documents to run for the senate seat from Maryland as a Democratic Party candidate.

According to federal election filings, Manning will look to challenge Democrat Benjamin L Cardin, who is currently serving his second term as senator. The Washington Post pointed out that Cardin, who is up for re-election in June, is a favourite in the blue state and is already in the lead for the position.

Manning refused to make any comment regarding her filing but said she would release a statement in the coming days. The transgender activist and whistleblower has a tough road ahead if she does in fact decide to compete against Cardin.

Aside from this being her debut in the political arena, the 30-year-old will have to face hurdles considering her criminal history.

In 2013, the intelligence analyst – then known as Bradley Edward Manning – was convicted by court martial of violations of the Espionage Act. With 21 convictions in total, she was sentenced to 35 years at a maximum security prison at Fort Leavenworth. In January 2017, former President Barack Obama commuted her sentence to nearly seven years of confinement dating from her arrest on May 27, 2010.

She was released in May 2017 after which she began hormone replacement therapy to transition to a woman.

Despite the gravity of her convictions, her criminal history will not legally stop Manning from running for senator. Newsweek pointed out that the US constitution does not restrict those with a criminal record from running, and Maryland’s own laws have no such limitations as well.

However, public opinion may play a bigger part in her political success. There have been mixed reactions to Manning’s whistleblowing, and while a number of people view her as a 21st century Tiananmen Square Tank Man, to others she remains a traitor.

These mixed opinions could eventually reflect badly on the ballot but the current atmosphere with Trump at the helm also brings optimism. Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College in Maryland, told The Washington Post that with a newcomer like Trump becoming president, the doors to politics have been opened wider and could allow the likes of 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 US Senate?'” he said.

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