Former Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott endorsed Del. Kathy Szeliga's bid for Maryland's open Senate seat on Friday -- and used a letter to Republicans to argue Maryland could be a pickup opportunity for the GOP this fall.
Lott, a former Mississippi senator who is now a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, urged GOP donors to remember Republican Ed Gillespie's near miss against incumbent Sen. Mark R. Warner in Virginia in 2014 -- and said the party regretted not doing more for his campaign.
Lott's point was that the party should not repeat that mistake in Maryland.
"Help never came and Ed lost the race by a measly .08 percent" Lott wrote. "We see some of these same similarities in the Maryland race. Maryland is historically thought of as a blue state, but we are here to tell you the tide is changing in Maryland."
Szeliga, of Baltimore County, is running in a crowded field for the GOP nomination that includes Baltimore attorney Chrys Kefalas, former Pentagon official Richard J. Douglas and 11 other candidates. Polls have indicated Szeliga has a lead in the race, but have also shown that the vast majority of likely GOP voters have not chosen a candidate.
It's not yet clear whether the tide is actually turning in Maryland. Democrats still enjoy a better than two-to-one registration advantage in the state. Seven of Maryland's eight members of the House and its two current senators are Democrats. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, won in 2014 -- but that was a year that featured remarkably low turn out.
Republican candidates like Szeliga are banking on Hogan's victory in Maryland as being something more than an aberration.
"The Democrats are about to nominate a Washington career politician in a year when the voters are disgusted with the failures of Washington career politicians," Szeliga spokeswoman Leslie Shedd said in a statement -- offering a preview of the general election message the campaign is all but certain to pitch.