-In the foreground, House members Nichilaus Kipke (R) and Kathy Szeliga (R) listen to fellow representatives talk about the budget. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun)

Maryland House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga on Tuesday launched a bid to become the state’s first Republican U.S. senator in three decades.

Szeliga, a businesswoman and state delegate who represents parts of Baltimore and Harford counties, announced her candidacy at a news conference in Annapolis. She said her focus in the Senate would be on national security, prosperity for everyday Americans and improving the nation’s education system.

“The people we send to Washington have to roll up their sleeves, stop the fighting and work together on issues that are not political, not partisan, but personal to families across our state and our nation,” Szeliga said. “Government has gotten too big, and it’s infringed on our liberty and freedom.”

Szeliga, 54, is one of three Republicans vying for the nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D). Although registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the state by more than 2 to 1, the state GOP is hoping for a competitive Senate race, buoyed by the victory of Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last year.

House Minority Leader Kathy Szeliga swept into GOP leadership last year and is now running for U.S. Senate. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

On the Democratic side, U.S. Reps. Donna Edwards, of Prince George’s County, and Chris Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, are seeking the nomination. A Washington Post-University of Maryland survey in October showed Edwards leading Van Hollen, but Van Hollen is far ahead of Edwards in fundraising.

A third Democrat, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, has said he is considering entering the race as well. He had more support than either Edwards or Van Hollen in the Post-U.Md. poll.

Szeliga was encouraged to run by several establishment Republicans in Maryland, including U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and former lieutenant governor Michael S. Steele.

Their support, and Szeliga’s prominent position in party politics and Annapolis, make her an immediate contender in a primary race that also includes Chrysovalantis Kefalas, an openly gay Greek American from Baltimore who works for the National Association of Manufacturers, and Richard J. Douglas, a former Pentagon official and lawyer from Montgomery County. The primary is April 26.

Szeliga, who has been in the legislature since 2011, owns a construction business with her husband and served as chief of staff for Harris before running for office herself. She quickly rose to a leadership position, becoming minority whip in 2013.

“I know her to be a tough, smart woman from Baltimore who’s not afraid to take on the political establishment to get real results for Maryland families,” Harris said in a statement.

Szeliga has maintained conservative positions on issues such as taxes, spending, gay marriage and gun control, while largely shunning the win-at-all-costs mentality of some hard-liners within her party. For example, she said this year that if she were in Congress, she would not push to shut down the federal government over Planned Parenthood funding.

During the 2014 election, Szeliga played a central role in the Republicans’ successful effort to win 50 delegate seats — the most since the 1920s. If her U.S. Senate bid fails, she will retain her positions in the House of Delegates.

“She’s built a lot of goodwill throughout the state,” Maryland GOP director Joe Cluster said. “There’s a lot of people who owe her a lot for their elections.”

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.