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GOP race to succeed Maryland Gov. Hogan opens up with Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford opting out, Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz announcing she’s in

Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford has ruled out a run for governor in 2022, helping to break open the Republican contest to succeed Gov. Larry Hogan.

Rutherford said Wednesday he weighed his decision for months, but decided not to put himself and his family through a campaign and a potential governorship. Also, he said he wanted to make his decision known early enough for other Republican politicians and donors to make their moves.

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Just hours after Rutherford’s announcement, the first major Republican candidate entered the race: Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz.

Schulz launched her campaign with a brief video posted online, saying she’s been inspired by Marylanders’ perseverance and resiliency during the coronavirus pandemic and wants to help them “chart a better and brighter future.”

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“I’m running for governor so we can continue to build upon all of our past successes and fulfill the great promise and potential of our state,” Schulz said in the video.

Schulz, who has been Hogan’s commerce secretary for two years, did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

Hogan, who was elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018, is barred by term limits from running again. Rutherford’s decision against running cleared a path for Schulz to be the Hogan-affiliated candidate in the race.

In the last two decades, Maryland lieutenant governors have twice run for governor without success: Former Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown lost to Hogan in 2014 and former Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2002.

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Ehrlich’s partner in office, Michael Steele, opted to run for the U.S. Senate in 2006 rather than seek reelection as lieutenant governor. Ehrlich lost his bid for a second term and Steele was defeated, as well.

Now a political commentator, Steele has said he’s considering running for governor. He told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday that he is “taking a hard, serious look at an opportunity to serve Marylanders again.”

Meanwhile, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has been weighing a run for the GOP nomination for governor, state comptroller or Maryland’s 1st District seat in the U.S. House. Glassman has an announcement scheduled Thursday about his “plans to continue public service.”

Rutherford, 64, said in an interview that he understood people in the political world were watching to see what he would do before making decisions of whether to run or whom to back.

He said he never really saw himself as wanting to climb to Maryland’s top job. When he took office, it was his first time in elected politics after a career as a lawyer and government procurement official.

As lieutenant governor, he’s played up his love of governmental nuance and a dry sense of humor in videos on social media titled “Mundane (But Meaningful).” They explore topics such as the census, the Maryland Board of Public Works and regulatory reform.

“In the very beginning, I didn’t have my eye on the governor’s seat,” Rutherford said, adding jokingly: “I wasn’t looking to push Hogan down the steps or anything to become the next governor.”

At a coronavirus vaccine clinic Wednesday in Columbia, Hogan said he understands Rutherford’s decision.

“He’s really not a politician, which is why I picked him to be lieutenant governor,” said Hogan, who also hadn’t sought elected office until 2014. “He’s an excellent manager and administrator, and his heart is in the right place. He’s very knowledgeable, but he just doesn’t like politics and I don’t blame him.”

Rutherford said he won’t play a role in the primary, though he said he has worked with Schulz and likes her.

In addition to being the first well-known Republican, Schulz is also the first woman from either party to enter the 2022 race for governor. Maryland has never had a woman as governor before; they’ve all been white men.

Schulz, 52, joined Hogan’s administration in 2015 as labor secretary. At the time, she was about to start a second term in the House of Delegates representing Frederick County. She resigned her seat to join the governor’s team.

Schulz previously had been active in Republican politics, including twice serving as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. She worked for a defense contractor and as a real estate agent, according to her official biography.

On her website, Schulz said that she worked evenings and weekends as a server and bartender while raising her sons and putting herself through college. She graduated from Hood College in Frederick with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2006.

Over the past year, Schulz’s Department of Commerce has been tasked with administering hundreds of millions of dollars in programs designed to help businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic. Last spring, the first round of state-funded business grants was slow to be awarded, frustrating business owners who had been shut down by government orders and struggled to keep afloat.

Her job as commerce secretary also involves recruiting businesses to come to Maryland and promoting tourism.

Schulz did not have an active campaign finance account for a few years, but opened a new account on Wednesday. Her campaign treasurer is Sam Malhotra, who served as Hogan’s chief of staff and secretary of human resources. Malhotra currently sits on a state commission that sets hospital rates.

Schulz’s campaign website launched Wednesday, though the domain was registered in January. The website does not list any specific policy proposals or priorities, offering for now a promise to “help our struggling families and small businesses, and restore and strengthen our economy.”

Rutherford’s decision was first reported on the Maryland Matters website.

On the Democratic side for 2022, the announced candidates include State Comptroller Peter Franchot and former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III.

Several other Democrats are considering a run or being encouraged to get into the race, including: Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.; former federal labor secretary and former Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez; Doug Gansler, a former Montgomery County prosecutor and state attorney general; activist Wes Moore; U.S. Rep. David Trone, and Brown, who is now in the U.S. House.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Barker and Baltimore Sun Media reporters Ana Faguy and James Whitlow contributed to this article.

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