Impressions on Maryland’s U.S. Senate GOP primary
Over the last couple weeks I have been trying to get a reading on who I would like to be my Senator from the great state of Maryland. (Spoiler alert: Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen ain’t going to cut it.) It’s been a process of trying to get questions answered, checking websites, and watching some of the debates in order to figure out who the best candidate for me would be.
There are 14 Republicans running for the Senate seat, a number which is unusually high. (In previous cycles, it was closer to 10 candidates.) Of course, with that many candidates in a statewide race it becomes apparent early on who has the most legitimate shot at winning. Granted, this has been helped somewhat by media perception, such as which hopefuls are invited to debates, but realistically only about half of those 14 candidates have any real shot – the rest are just ballot filler. In fact, when I asked the questions of candidates only 12 of the 14 had good e-mails, and two of those 12 have no website insofar as I can tell. (Another has a website with just a front page and no functionality). Sadly, the pair without websites are two of those who answered my questions – but the larger question is how you can beat someone who has $3.6 million in the bank like Chris Van Hollen does? You need money to get your message out.
By the time you separate the wheat from the chaff you get about a half-dozen somewhat serious candidates, with a couple on a lower tier that are running campaigns more suited to a Congressional level. Greg Holmes is one, with another being Anthony Seda, who has pointed out he’s not accepting contributions. Noble, but suicidal in the real world of politics. Let me repeat: you need money to get your message out.
So in my estimation, the race comes down to five: Richard Douglas, Joe Hooe, Chrys Kefalas, Kathy Szeliga, and Dave Wallace. In the last debate I watched there were only three participants as Hooe and Wallace were not invited. Another debate featured all but Wallace, while the Goucher College debate had Holmes, Hooe, and Wallace along with Douglas and Kefalas (Szeliga skipped this debate for a Maryland GOP event.)
So here is how I would categorize the contenders, in alphabetical order.
Richard Douglas is the only one of the five to have run a statewide campaign before, but I’m not seeing that pointed out as an advantage. He also has the benefit of experience working in the Senate, but in this topsy-turvy electoral year he’s forced to run more as an outsider because that’s the political mood. His campaign to me has been an intriguing concoction of a hawkish foreign policy combined with a populist economic outlook. He’s one of only two of the five who has answered my list of questions, and as one would expect I found his answers to be strongest on foreign policy, immigration, and to some extent the role of government. (I also know Richard has religious freedom bona fides.)
In 2012 when Richard ran for Senate and lost to Dan Bongino, I noted he would have been my 1A candidate after Bongino, who I endorsed. I would have been as comfortable with him winning as the eventual nominee, and at this point he’s done nothing to change that assessment given this field. Still, he speaks the language of an insider and that may hurt him.
Joe Hooe has made his key issue that of immigration, advocating for a paid guest worker program he claims will raise $80 billion. He claims it will make taxpayers out of illegal aliens, but my question is whether we could track such a program when we have no clue how many people are in the country illegally because they crossed the border and how many are illegal because they overstayed their visa. And if they refuse to pay to work, how will we enforce this new fee? If they are here illegally, then I doubt they’re suddenly going to have a “come to Jesus” moment and decide to follow a law that will cost them $1,000.
One thing I do like about Hooe is his advocacy for apprenticeship programs, but to me that is more of a state concern than a federal concern. Perhaps it’s the aspect of having to be elected by the people (which was not the original intent of the Founding Fathers) but I think all of these candidates conflate the roles of the federal and state governments to some degree. Education is one of many areas where there should be no government role.
Chrys Kefalas has a background that I think would serve him well, particularly since he’s involved with the manufacturing field. He does well on trade and job creation, but my question is whether he would be anything different than what we have now concerning the social issues leg of the Reaganesque three-legged conservative stool. Surely he (and some others) argue that Maryland has settled on its position regarding social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, but that doesn’t mean we should stop working toward Judeo-Christian values where life begins at conception and marriage is between one man and one woman. It’s not quite enough to keep me from voting for Chrys on a general election ballot but many thousands of voters realize a two-legged stool doesn’t work.
Maryland Republicans run into trouble when they try to out-liberal the Democrats on certain issues: if you’re a voter who’s going to vote based on the belief that the unborn is just a blob of tissue and no harm comes to society when anyone can marry anyone else they want – and why stop at one, right? – it’s not likely they’re going to be conservative everywhere else. Meanwhile, you just dispirit the percentage of GOP voters who have that passion for Judeo-Christian values. “I’m only voting for President,” they’ll say. It can be argued that Larry Hogan’s victory was an example of putting social issues on the back burner, but aside from Hogan getting the benefit of a depressed liberal Democrat turnout in 2014, ignoring social issues doesn’t play as well on a national race.
Kathy Szeliga is the “establishment” candidate trying desperately to portray herself as an everyday outsider. With the vast majority of Maryland’s General Assembly Republicans favoring her – mainly because she’s served as a Delegate for six years – she also has received the most attention and support in the race. Using my monoblogue Accountability Project as a guide, her lifetime score of 83 would put her in the upper third of those who have served with her over the years, although her score was more mediocre in 2015 (a 72 rating.) She’s also served as one of the faces of General Assembly Republicans - witness this video, one of a string she has done with fellow Delegate Susan Aumann:
Having said all that, there are two main things that disturb me about Szeliga’s campaign. For one, she has no “issues” page on her website, and I always subscribe to the theory that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. (The same is true for Kefalas.) However, she is reasonably good about answering questions and participating in debates.
But on that point you can tell she is a professional politician. Most of Kathy’s answers seem to be empty platitudes about her life and experiences being a mom, business owner, etc. rather than substantive discussions of the issue at hand. (On the other hand, Richard Douglas has a tendency to talk over the level of the average voter.) Not to be patronizing, but I suspect someone is telling Kathy women voters who would normally be afraid to vote Republican need to be addressed in a non-threatening way – never mind the Democrat who survives the primary will try and paint Szeliga (or any of the others, including the more socially moderate Kefalas) as a stereotypical Republican anyhow.
Dave Wallace, out of the five candidates, seems to be the most conservative. Having read a lengthy treatise of his, most of what he has to say makes sense on a policy level and for that reason I’m leaning his way at this point.
Yet having said that, we also know that Dave lost to a likely opponent by 22 points in a district which is, admittedly based on registration, a D+23 district as it currently stands. In that respect, though, it’s not as bad as the state at large (which is D+32.) We have seen this movie before: Dan Bongino lost by 30 in a 3-way race in 2012, Eric Wargotz by 26 in 2010, Michael Steele by 10 in 2006, E.J. Pipkin by 31 points in 2004, and so forth. I really don’t want a 30-point loss again; unfortunately, too many Maryland voters are stubborn like a mule in voting against their self-interest. (If they “got it,” the most conservative candidate would always win.)
Dave seems like a nice guy and a policy wonk, which I like. But the question is whether he can be a bulldog and attack the Democratic candidate for the failure of the last seven years.
This may not necessarily apply to Dave, although I’m using his space, but I don’t like talk about bipartisanship from any Republican hopeful because Democrats at a national level will nearly always take the hand you reach out to them with, twist your arm off, and proceed to beat you with it. Anyone remember “read my lips?” One of the reasons the bulk of Republicans are fed up with the political system is the lack of intestinal fortitude they see from the politicians they sent to Washington with the message “it’s always been done this way” is not cutting it anymore.
When the TEA Party wave in 2010 put the GOP back in charge of the House, the excuse was “we only control one half of one-third of the government.” Indeed, a do-nothing Senate was a problem. But when the do-nothing Senate was flipped to Republican control in 2014, we still heard excuses about why we couldn’t get anything done. If you want a reason for the rise of Donald Trump, you don’t need to look much further. (Never mind Trump’s not conservative and the bulk of his policy statements have the depth of a cookie sheet. He talks tough.)
If I were to rank my choices in this horserace at the moment, it would go Wallace and Douglas fairly close going into the final turn, with Kefalas a neck ahead of Szeliga for third on the outside and Hooe bringing up the rear. (The rest are chewing hay in the infield.) As it stands now, I will make my endorsement the second Sunday before the primary (April 17.)
In the coming days I will rank the three contenders for the First District Congressional seat. [Yes, there are four Republicans on the ballot but Jonathan Goff is such a strong Trump supporter that he is disqualified. (#NeverTrump strikes again.)] That race is a little different because the incumbent is a Republican so the question becomes whether we want a more straight-ahead conservative or someone who has the reputation of being more liberty-minded? I’ll do some research and hear from one of the three candidates in person in the coming days to help me decide.
Update: Want more? Here you go.