Chrys Kefalas, an openly gay Republican who also worked in the Obama administration, pointed to Gov. Larry Hogan's success in last year's gubernatorial election as evidence that the GOP can win statewide elections in Maryland despite the Democrats' 2-1 advantage in voter registration.
"Marylanders want someone who comes from the outside, who will solve problems ... and who focuses on the issues that people care about," Kefalas, 36, said in an interview.
Kefalas, who announced his decision to run on Fox News, joins a field for the GOP nomination that includes Del. Kathy Szeliga, the minority whip in the House of Delegates; Richard J. Douglas, a former Pentagon official and Senate candidate; and Navy veteran Anthony Seda.
The candidates are running for the Senate seat that will be left open in 2017 by the retirement of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat. Democratic Reps. Donna Edwards of Prince George's County and Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County have been battling for their party's nomination for months.
Kefalas, who was recently engaged, works for the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington. The Parkville man served as a speechwriter and aide to then-U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., a trial and appellate attorney at the Department of Justice, a business lawyer and deputy legal counsel to Ehrlich.
He said he would file his candidacy at the Maryland State Board of Elections this week and plans to take a leave from the manufacturers group to pursue the race.
Kefalas could have some advantages, particularly in a Maryland general election. In addition to his work for Holder, a Democrat, he has advocated for same-sex marriage and has said he supports the decriminalization of marijuana. Arguing that it is time to end the war on drugs, he said he is open to looking at also decriminalizing heroin.
Those messages could appeal to independents and some state Democrats.
But Kefalas might also face some disadvantages in the April 26 primary.
A recent poll for The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore showed Szeliga leading Kefalas by a margin of nearly 3-1, even though Kefalas was the first to express interest and has been among the most aggressive campaigners in the GOP field.
The poll showed that nearly 60 percent of Republicans are undecided.
Kefalas has yet to raise the kind of cash needed to mount a credible statewide campaign. He raised just under $75,000 from July through the end of September, his second quarter of fundraising. Filings with the Federal Election Commission show he had about $92,000 on hand.
Maryland last elected a Republican senator — Charles McC. Mathias — in 1980. But Ehrlich and, more recently, Hogan have demonstrated that the GOP can win statewide.
Hogan has not endorsed a candidate in the race.