July 19, 2016

Maryland GOP Senate candidate backs Trump, but skips his convention

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Gov. Larry Hogan endorsed Del. Kathy Szeliga for U.S. Senate Tuesday. Both are skipping the Cleveland GOP convention. Screen shot from video on Szeliga's Facebook page.

Gov. Larry Hogan endorsed Del. Kathy Szeliga for U.S. Senate Tuesday. Both are skipping the Cleveland GOP convention. Screen shot from video on Szeliga's Facebook page.

By Jessie Campisi

Capital News Service

CLEVELAND -– Gov. Larry Hogan isn’t the only high-profile Maryland Republican to take a rain check on the GOP’s national convention.

Instead of traveling to her party’s gathering where Donald Trump claimed the GOP’s presidential nomination Wednesday, Maryland House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga decided to remain in her own state to focus on her campaign against Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County for the open U.S. Senate seat.

“I am a little sorry I couldn’t be there,” said Szeliga, who represents Baltimore County in the Maryland House of Delegates. “But I should be here (in Maryland) meeting voters.”

Szeliga joined Hogan Tuesday in Annapolis at a roundtable discussion on helping veterans and picked up the governor’s formal endorsement.

“She’s a fighter, she’s tough,” said Hogan at an Annapolis news conference. “She can win this race, she should win this race and she’ll make a great United States Senator.” (From a Facebook video.)

Szeliga saidt she couldn’t justify the expenses for such a short trip.

“I couldn’t go back to my donors and ask for $2,000 for it,” she said. “So I made a choice.”

This choice, she said, would earn her points among Marylanders for being fiscally conservative, noting that she has significantly less campaign cash than Van Hollen.

The Democrat had raised slightly more than $8 million through the second quarter of 2016, compared with her $434,000, according to OpenSecrets.org, a campaign finance website.

Keeping their distance

Although a majority of Maryland Republicans – 54 percent – opted to support Trump in the state’s primary April 26, some of the state’s Republicans have kept their distance from the real estate mogul.

Hogan has said he has no plans to vote for Trump and has been critical of him. Szeliga, running in a state that traditionally votes Democratic in presidential elections, has said she will support her party’s nominee, but is concentrating on her own contest.

That doesn’t sit well with some Marylanders here.

Some delegates, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid antagonizing another party member, privately expressed discontent and disappointment with Szeliga’s and Hogan’s absences in Cleveland at a time when unity is a key goal of their party after a fractious primary season.

“Obviously, the hope of the convention is to establish a sense of unity,” Szeliga said. “I’m on ‘Team Kathy.’ I’m very focused on that, and the GOP is focused on ‘Team Trump’ this week.”

Since announcing her candidacy in November, Szeliga has said she would support “the presumptive nominee,” but has openly denounced some of Trump’s statements.

“I have been an independent thinker, and I stand by that,” she said. “I’ll continue to be that person who calls balls and strikes. Voters in Maryland expect (that).”

Van Hollen camp criticizes Trump connection

Representatives from Van Hollen’s campaign criticized Szeliga for any alignment she has with Trump.

“Delegate Szeliga can run from the Republican National Convention, but she cannot hide from the fact that she supports Donald Trump and what he stands for,” said Bridgett Frey, Van Hollen’s campaign spokeswoman. “(She) would only bring the same dysfunction and discord to the U.S. Senate, and Maryland families deserve better.”

Bill Harris, an alternate at-large Maryland delegate to the GOP convention from Cecil County, said Szeliga was “running for a seat that’s been labeled ‘Democrat’ for a long time, and she’s got to work.”

But he had less sympathy for others who stayed away, although he didn’t mention specific names.

“We’re seeing quite a few absences of elected officials,” Bill Harris said. “And I think they’re going to pay for it.”