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Donald Trump to campaign in Maryland

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will travel to Baltimore on Monday. (John Fritze/Baltimore Sun video)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will come to Baltimore on Monday to address National Guard leaders as he wrestles with the fallout from recent remarks he has made about U.S. military leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump is scheduled to speak to the National Guard Association of the United States, which is holding its annual conference at the Inner Harbor, at a time when national security has become a central issue in the race.

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The visit, Trump's first to Baltimore as the nominee, comes as he faces criticism from Democrat Hillary Clinton for insisting that Putin has been a stronger leader than President Barack Obama and asserting that America's military leadership has been "reduced to rubble."

Maryland leans heavily Democratic in national elections, and so Trump's decision to spend time here rather than in a battleground state is unusual. A poll released on Monday by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks found the Republican trailing Clinton in the state by 29 points.

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Trump has gained ground recently in polls nationally and in key swing states.

"It's a tough battle for Maryland, no question about it," said state Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican running for Congress in a district he believes will support Trump.

But "our district is great for Trump, [and] I'm very excited about him coming."

A Maryland Republican likely not as excited about the visit is Gov. Larry Hogan.

The governor, whose popularity is soaring, has said he will not support Trump in November. An aide said the governor will speak to the National Guard Association, but has no plans to appear alongside the GOP nominee.

An aide to Del. Kathy Szeliga, the GOP nominee for Maryland's open Senate seat, declined to say whether the candidate would appear with Trump on Monday. Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County, the sole Republican in the state's congressional delegation, has a scheduling conflict, a spokeswoman said.

Both Szeliga and Harris have said they will support Trump. The GOP nominee won Maryland's primary on April 26 primary with 54 percent of the vote.

The National Guard conference, which is not open to the public, has hosted at least one presidential candidate every election year since 1992, a spokesman said. In that sense, Trump's appearance is not about Maryland, per se, but rather about speaking to a national audience.

The group, which has 45,000 members, said it invited both Trump and Clinton.

"We are participants in democracy as well as defenders of democracy," said the association's president, retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett.

"So, in both roles, we are curious to hear Mr. Trump's vision for national defense and how the National Guard fits into those plans," he said in a statement.

Trump has had a complicated relationship with the military. His campaign announced endorsements this week from 88 retired generals and admirals, all of whom signed a letter calling for a "course correction" in U.S. defense policy.

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That change, they wrote, can be made only by someone who is not "substantially responsible for the hollowing out of our military and the burgeoning threats facing our country around the world."

But Trump has faced criticism from fellow Republicans throughout his campaign on military issues, such as when he questioned the heroism of Sen. John McCain.

The Naval Academy graduate was shot down over Vietnam, held captive for more than five years and tortured. Early in his captivity, the Vietcong learned he was the son of an admiral and offered to release him. He refused, saying he would not accept the offer unless the Americans who were captured before him were also freed.

Clinton's campaign, meanwhile, is airing a television advertisement that calls attention to Trump's claim that he knows "more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me."

The most recent flap involves Trump's assertion during a televised forum Wednesday that Putin has been a stronger leader than Obama.

Trump appeared on a Kremlin-backed television station the next day and said it was "probably unlikely" that Russia was involved with high-profile computer attacks on the Democratic National Committee and state election systems.

That's not the assessment of private cyber analysts, who say there is evidence that the attacks were carried out by Russian groups. The Obama administration has cited those assessments, but has not itself officially blamed Russia for the hacks.

Trump has also questioned the state of U.S. military leadership.

"Under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton the generals have been reduced to rubble," he said Wednesday. "They have been reduced to a point where it's embarrassing for our country."

The assertions have drawn rebuke from fellow Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has endorsed Trump.

"Vladimir Putin is an aggressor that does not share our interests," Ryan said Thursday.

Ryan said it "certainly appears that he is conducting ... state-sponsored cyber attacks on what appears to be our political system."

Democrats in Maryland were notably muted about Trump's visit.

The Maryland Democratic Party did not respond to several requests for comment, and focused its social media effort Friday on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's appearance at a state Republican Party fundraiser in Glen Burnie.

Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, said he appreciates presidential candidates coming to Maryland to give voters a chance to see the race up close.

"My problem is not with the visit," Cardin said. "My problem is with his policies."

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