In race for Senate, Szeliga highlights ties to Hogan | WYPR

In race for Senate, Szeliga highlights ties to Hogan

Sep 27, 2016

A staff member works at Senate candidate Kathy Szeliga's Baltimore field office.
Credit Rachel Baye

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Szeliga makes no secret of the fact that she has been endorsed by Gov. Larry Hogan in her bid to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

She calls attention to the endorsement in her first ad since the primary, released last week.

“I am proud to have the endorsement of Gov. Larry Hogan,” she says in the ad. “He knows we have to change Washington together.”

Hogan’s endorsement also appears above some of Szeliga’s yard signs.

Szeliga, who represents Baltimore County in the state House of Delegates, pitched herself as Hogan’s ally in Washington at an event Sunday at the B’nai Israel Congregation synagogue in Rockville.

“He needs a partner in Washington — someone who is willing to work with him and someone who knows what it's like to sign the front of a paycheck and balance a budget,” she said.

But at least so far, Szeliga has not seen the same kind of approval ratings as the Maryland governor.

A Goucher College poll released Monday reported a 70 percent approval rating for Hogan, a Republican in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than two to one.

By comparison, just 28 percent of likely voters say they view Szeliga favorably, the Goucher data show. Even fewer — 24 percent — say they are likely to vote for her.

Mileah Kromer, who runs the poll as the director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said it’s hard for a federal candidate like Szeliga to latch onto the coattails of a popular governor like Hogan.

“There is generally a disconnect — at least especially it's been made during this election —between state politics and the national level politics and how it trickles down,” Kromer said. “I think Kathy Szeliga, certainly, is more influenced by Donald Trump than she is by Larry Hogan at this point.”

Hogan was elected following the recession and the ensuing recovery, events that generally drive discontent with a sitting governor’s party. He was able to criticize the tax and fee hikes former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration used to buffer revenues following the downturn.

Szeliga isn’t in the same position.

“Now as an individual senator, you have less control over your ability to turn the economy around,” Kromer said. “She’ll have to speak about issues that are fundamentally different from the issues that Larry Hogan had to speak about back in 2014.”

Kromer said voters see the distinction between federal and state elections even more clearly this year, the year of Donald Trump.

Earlier this year, Hogan declared he will not vote for Trump for president. Szeliga was asked about her own support of Trump at Sunday’s event.

“I got in this U.S. Senate race on Nov. 10, and I have said since that time, I would support my party’s nominee, and I am a woman of my word — I am supporting my party’s nominee,” she said in response.

Szeliga’s Democratic opponent in the race, U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, said Szeliga’s support of Trump highlights a major difference between her and Hogan.

“Donald Trump does not represent Maryland values, and it displays terrible judgment for my opponent to support someone like Donald Trump to be commander in chief and the president of the United States,” he said.

According to the recent Goucher poll, 76 percent of likely voters say they view Trump unfavorably, and 25 percent say they will vote for him.

Kromer said Trump’s numbers in Maryland may be dragging Szeliga down in the polls. She indicated data showing that more than half of likely voters say they don’t know whether they view Szeliga favorably or unfavorably.

“Now over the summer, she has really gotten out there and tried to introduce herself to Marylanders,” Kromer said. “The problem is every single time, she has been asked about Trump or she has to talk about Trump — Trump’s latest gaffe, Trump’s latest comment — and that detracts from her ability to talk about herself and her campaign.”

With six weeks to go before Election Day, Szeliga said she’s hitting the ground running. She said that at this point two years ago — when Hogan was running for governor — he was down in the polls, too.

A CBS News/New York Times/YouGov poll conducted at the end of September that year showed Hogan down 17 points. Szeliga is down 30.

While Szeliga described her plans for new ads from her Baltimore field office, Hogan could be seen smiling from a framed photo of him and Szeliga, on a table two feet away.