Kelly M. Schulz accused a Democratic group of backing a Republican “fringe candidate” endorsed by former president Donald Trump in the tight GOP primary, a move that could improve a Democrat’s chances of winning the general election.
“The math is easy. Spend a million now and save $5 million by not having to face me in the general election,” Schulz said in Annapolis on Thursday, flanked by supporters, including Hogan. She called Cox a “lying, conspiracy theorist … who is a danger to our party and our state.”
The allegation yielded a swift response from Trump, who has meddled in Republican primaries across the country as more-moderate members of the party work to fend off Trump-endorsed candidates.
Late Friday, in his loudest foray into the tight race, Trump accused Schulz’s campaign of “phony games” and “last minute smears” to boost her campaign.
“They know their candidate is losing, and losing big!,” Trump said in a statement, in which in called Hogan a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) and Schulz a “Never Trumper.” “The last thing Radical Left Democrats want is a real fighter in Maryland, or any other great state, and that’s Dan Cox all the way.”
Schulz said Trump appeared to be driven by his “blind hatred for Governor Hogan and his success is overriding his better judgment.” She said he hopes he “comes to his senses and realizes he is being played by the Democrats.”
Cox said he hasn’t received any direct support from the DGA.
“You are lying,” Cox said in a statement directed at Schulz on Thursday. “Are you colluding with the Left to smear our campaign just like Hillary Clinton did to Donald Trump with her fake Russia dossier smear?”
Maryland Republicans say the ad is part of a national strategy to elect far-right Republicans who will be easier for Democrats to defeat in November. The group funded ads in support of a Republican candidate in the Illinois gubernatorial primary to the chagrin of his opponent, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Democrats, who have lost the Maryland governor’s race in three of the previous five elections, are fielding 10 candidates for the nomination, although Rushern L. Baker III has paused his campaign. Turnout for the primary is expected to be low after a court battle over redistricting shifted the contest to July 19, political scientists say.
The 30-second TV ad, paid for by the DGA, emphasizes Cox’s connection to Trump, and his opposition to abortion and gun control — a message that could appeal to GOP primary voters and boost Cox’s name recognition.
A DGA spokesman declined to say why the group paid for the ad, but called Cox a front-runner. Despite lagging far behind in fundraising, Cox is in a statistical dead heat with Schulz among decided Republican primary voters, although nearly half of those voters remain undecided, according to recent polling from Goucher College.
“For months, multiple polls have shown Dan Cox is firmly in the driver’s seat of Maryland’s Republican primary, with the total backing of Donald Trump,” DGA spokesman Sam Newton said in a statement, referring to internal polls done by his organization. “It’s telling that Kelly Schulz is already looking for excuses for her failure to gain any momentum.”
Hogan, who is term-limited and cannot seek reelection, accused the DGA of playing “Russian roulette” with the State House.
“Democrats already outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 in the state, but they still feel the need to cheat because they’re out of ideas and clearly believe that they can’t win a fair fight,” he said.
Among Democrats, Comptroller Peter Franchot, best-selling author and former nonprofit chief Wes Moore and former U.S. labor secretary Thomas Perez are locked in a statistical three-way tie for the party’s nomination among decided Democratic primary voters, according to Goucher polling.
This story has been updated with reaction from former president Donald Trump and the Schulz campaign.