Republican Richard J. Douglas, a candidate for Maryland’s open Senate seat, said Thursday that while his daughter is gay, he opposed the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage.
“I have a lesbian daughter,” Douglas said at a primary debate that aired on Fox 45 on Thursday afternoon. “I love my daughter, I want no harm to come to her, but our traditions matter, and tolerance is a two-way street.”
When gay marriage was legalized in Maryland in 2012, he said, “I didn’t celebrate it. . . . I didn’t agree with the result; I didn’t like it.”
One of his rivals for the Republican nomination, Chrys Kefalas, who works for the National Association of Manufacturers and is openly gay, said that while he thinks same-sex marriage “is an issue of individual liberty, equality and dignity,” it’s also not what matters to voters.
“ISIS is beheading people,” Kefalas said, referring to the terrorist group Islamic State by its other name. “People are losing their jobs.”
State House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), who is also seeking the nomination, agreed. “This was a divisive issue in the past,” she said, “but it’s definitely been settled. What Marylanders care about now are taxes, jobs and the economy.”
In a state where there are more than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, whoever wins the April 26 primary faces very long odds in the general election. All four of the candidates on stage Thursday tried to balance conservative positions with a moderate appeal.
They said they believed in climate change but did not want to deal with it in a way that would hurt U.S. workers. Most said they would meet with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland but probably would not vote to confirm him. Only Kefalas warned that it might make sense to hold hearings before the November election, given the possibility that Democrats will take both the presidency and the Senate next year.
“Let’s have hearings, let’s vet the nominee, let’s find out how this nomination stands,” he said.
Each candidate made the case for his or her particular appeal in a blue state.
Douglas said only he had worked with the last Republican senator from Maryland, the late Charles McC. Mathias Jr., who was in office when Douglas was at the State Department.
Candidate Joe Hooe, who owns a local tire company, said his relationship with customers and his novel immigration plan would give him a leg up. That plan is to charge undocumented immigrants and their employers each $1,000 a year for temporary work certificates.
Kefalas noted that he had worked as a speechwriter in the Department of Justice under President Obama. His Greek American immigrant background, career in business and government, and status as a gay Republican would help him appeal to Democrats, he said.
Szeliga argued that she knows how to win as a Republican in Maryland, having worked with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) both in office and on the 2014 campaign that put him there.
Polls show a wide-open race for the nomination, with few voters paying much attention a month before the April 26 primary. In a recent Baltimore Sun poll, Szeliga led the field with 6 percent of the vote. Seventy-nine percent of voters were undecided.
In all, 14 candidates are seeking the nomination. Those who participated in the debate Thursday were chosen by the Maryland Republican Party, which required contenders to have raised at least $10,000 by March 9.
By the end of last year, Kefalas had raised the most money, but Szeliga had more cash on hand. Both had raised and spent less than $200,000 — sums dwarfed by the multimillion-dollar Democratic primary.