Former Maryland Democratic leader backs Kathy Szeliga

Democrat R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. cites national debt as reason to back Kathy Szeliga.

R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., a Democrat and former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, endorsed the Republican nominee for Maryland's open Senate seat on Monday, saying he is angered by the increase in the national debt.

The Kent County man, who stepped down from politics in 1993, said in a statement that he will support Republican state lawmaker Kathy Szeliga for the seat, rather than Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

Mitchell declined an interview request made through the Szeliga campaign. He did not respond to a message left at his home.

"I am supporting Kathy Szeliga for U.S. Senate because we need to shake things up in Washington," Mitchell, 80, said in the statement. "Since her opponent was first elected to Congress, our national debt has tripled. Tripled. With that kind of track record, it is obvious Maryland needs to change its representation in Washington."

Van Hollen has served as the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee since 2010, but his capacity to address the national debt from that perch is, to say the least, limited. It is not clear whether Mitchell also blames other Democratic leaders in Washington for the debt, such as President Barack Obama, or just Van Hollen.

Van Hollen's campaign responded with a statement noting that Mitchell worked as a state lobbyist for Baltimore Gas & Electric -- a job he took shortly after leaving the state house.

"If Delegate Szeliga wants to talk about helping working families, she shouldn't team up with someone who led the anti-consumer lobbying effort for the energy industry in Annapolis for years," Van Hollen spokeswoman Bridgett Frey said in a statement. "Once again, Delegate Szeliga is putting corporate special interests first."

Szeliga, of Baltimore County, and Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, are running for the Senate seat that will be left open by the retirement of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. Libertarian Arvin Vohra and Green Party candidate Margaret Flowers are also running.

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