(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Candidates vying to be Maryland’s first Republican senator in nearly three decades are trying to piggyback off the popularity of Gov. Larry Hogan.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (Baltimore County) boasts about working with Hogan to cut taxes in Annapolis and often says she’ll change Washington — an homage to the Republican governor’s “Change Maryland” slogan.

Chrysovalantis Kefalas, an executive with the National Association of Manufacturers, calls himself a “Hogan Republican,” noting that they served together in the administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

Tire company owner Joseph Hooe fondly recalls campaigning for Hogan’s 2014 election.

And former Pentagon official Richard Douglas mentions that Hogan appointed him to the state ethics commission.

Although Hogan isn’t endorsing in the race, the candidates are painting themselves in his mold as effective business people who steer clear of thorny social issues that could alienate more-moderate primary voters.

“You are not going to run in Maryland as a Ted Cruz Republican . . . so you look to the most recent Republican who has been successful in this state,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College. “And that’s Larry Hogan.”

Szeliga, Kefalas, Hooe and Douglas are the only candidates in a 14-person GOP primary field to have raised significant money and maintained a robust presence on the campaign trail.

But their fundraising, and the attention they have received, pales in comparison to the nationally watched Democratic matchup between U.S. Reps. Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen.

A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released early this month found that nearly 6 in 10 likely Republican voters in Maryland had no preference in the GOP Senate primary. Among those who were backing a candidate, Szeliga and Kefalas led the pack.

In Democratic-leaning Maryland, whoever wins the April 26 Republican primary will be considered an underdog compared to the Democratic nominee.


House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, a delegate from Baltimore County. (Brian Witte/AP)

Szeliga, 54, has the most cash and endorsements and could get an added boost with a campaign commercial and radio spot that the advocacy group Citizens United is airing on her behalf through the primary.

The ads portray Szeliga as a businesswoman — she owns a construction company with her husband — who is outside the political establishment, even though she is the only GOP Senate candidate who is an officeholder. She also served as an aide to state lawmakers before she was elected.

“I’m a proven leader that’s working with Larry Hogan in Annapolis, and we are doing wonderful things to change Maryland,” Szeliga says.

In Washington, she says her priorities would be rolling back the Iran nuclear deal and protecting Maryland’s military bases. She would also oppose any attempt to shut down the government because such closures hurt federal subcontractors in Maryland, she said.


Maryland Senate candidate Chrys Kefalas (Courtesy of the Chrys Kefalas campaign)

Kefalas, a lawyer who in addition to working for Ehrlich worked for the Department of Justice under the Obama administration, questions Szeliga’s attempt to claim to outsider mantle in the race.

“Like Larry Hogan, I don’t have a legislative record. I wasn’t a part-time legislator really engrained in the system,” said Kefalas, 36, who moved from the District to his native Baltimore to run for the Senate seat.

Kefalas, who would be the first openly gay Republican senator, says he’s the only candidate capable of appealing to enough Democrats and independents to win the general election.

He says his support for marriage equality in 2012 would help him made inroads in such liberal bastions as Montgomery County, while his work on criminal justice reform in the Ehrlich administration would improve his credibility among African Americans.

In the U.S. Senate, he says, he’d be a moderate voice and advocate for returning manufacturing jobs to Maryland’s economically stressed communities.


Richard Douglas is a candidate in the GOP primary for Maryland's open U.S. Senate seat. (Douglas campaign)

Douglas, the 59-year-old runner-up in the 2012 Senate primary, worked as a lawyer for the U.S. Senate committees on foreign affairs and intelligence in the early 2000s, experience that he says sets him apart from the rest of the field.

He boasts additional national security chops as a former foreign service officer in the 1980s and Pentagon official managing counter-narcotic and anti-proliferation efforts in the last three years of George W. Bush’s administration.

He served in the Navy during the Cold War and was recalled from the reserves in the second half of 2006 during his Pentagon service to advise Iraqi forces. He is also endorsed by former U.N. ambassador John Bolton.

“When you have no federal experience at all, the administration, whether it’s Republican or Democrat, runs circles around you,” said Douglas, who says that revitalizing the Port of Baltimore and improving infrastructure would be among his top local priorities. “Congress is our last line of defense.”


Joe Hooe is a candidate in the GOP primary for Maryland's open U.S. Senate seat. (Hooe campaign)

Hooe, who has made two unsuccessful bids to represent Baltimore County in the House of Delegates, says he’s seeking the Senate seat to promote his immigration plan, which would allow workers living in the country illegally to remain if they and their employers pay $1,000 annual fees and meet other conditions.

“I’m conservative, but I care about people and care about finding real-world solutions to our most pressing problems,” said Hooe, 47.

None of the Senate candidates revealed whom they plan to back for president. All four professed independence from the top of their party’s ticket.