By Josh Kurtz
Setting up one of the marquee state Senate contests of the 2018 election cycle, Del. Christian Miele (R) announced Thursday night that he will challenge Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D) for the eastern Baltimore County seat she has held since 2003.
With Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in attendance at a Knights of Columbus hall in Nottingham, Miele implored supporters to help him get to the Senate to boost Hogan’s agenda.
“For the last three years I have proudly stood beside this governor and worked with him to try to change Maryland,” he told the cheering crowd of 400 people. He later added: “For as much progress as we’ve made in the last three years, the reality is that common sense does not always prevail in Annapolis. And Gov. Hogan needs our help.”
Hogan left no doubt that he sees Miele as a political heir who can help build the future of the state GOP, describing him as an energetic and ambitious public servant who was one of many new Republicans who benefited from Hogan’s coattails during his upset victory in 2014.
“Christian was one of the bright stars of the new class and he is such a bright young man who has been out in the community,” the governor said.
And Miele, who is 36, left no doubt that in running against the 67-year-old incumbent, he is in part making a generational appeal to the voters of the district, which includes Parkville, Perry Hall and White Marsh.
“You get to make the choice between the policies of the past and looking ahead to the future,” he told supporters during his 30-minute speech.
Klausmeier’s blue-collar 8th district is a top target for Maryland Republicans in 2018, as they seek to flip five Democratic-held seats and provide Hogan enough GOP votes to prevent veto overrides in the chamber if he wins a second term.
The district’s representation in Annapolis has long been split between Republicans and Democrats – and Klausmeier said that would be one of her appeals to voters. She said that even with Miele running against her, the delegation should continue to work well – noting that they’re all scheduled to visit elementary schools together on Friday.
“It’s a good balance in the 8th district,” she said.
But Hogan carried the district by a more than 2-1 margin in 2014 and is expected to romp there again next year no matter who the Democrats nominate to run against him. That will help Miele even with 2018 shaping up to be a better Democratic year nationally than it was in 2014. Hillary Clinton beat President Trump in the district by 240 votes last year – the smallest margin between the two White House contenders in any legislative district in the state.
“Make no mistake: This is going to be a tough, tough race,” Miele said.
Klausmeier argued that her long service to the district – she also spent eight years in the House – inoculates her from any partisan political trends.
“I have been a good friend to the community,” she said in an interview. “I’ve grown up in the 8th district. It’s in the fabric of who I am.”
That was a not-so-subtle jab at Miele, who grew up in New Jersey and came to the Baltimore area to attend Towson University. Although he has a law degree, Miele works for his in-laws’ web and print development company in Harford County.
Through mid-January, Klausmeier was leading the money chase, with $116,000 in her campaign account. Miele reported $45,000 in the bank at the time, though he estimated that Thursday night’s event brought in about $50,000. He said his fundraising goal for the election cycle is $150,000.
But Republican strategists said that even if Klausmeier has more money to spend, Miele has boundless energy and the tools and knowledge to run a modern campaign. They described him as a master at utilizing Facebook and Twitter, not unlike the governor.
“Every time I’m on social media, Christian is on there, answering questions,” said the Rev. Phil Knauer of Echo Community Church in Nottingham, Miele’s pastor.
Miele certainly opened his Senate bid with flair, using the occasion to find out and publicly announce, with Hogan’s assistance, whether his wife Jessica, who is five months’ pregnant with their first child, is going to have a girl or a boy (the answer, from the blue balloons Hogan pulled out of a sack, is boy).
“It’s an amazing turnout,” Hogan said. “It’s an exciting kickoff to the campaign.”
In fact, the only thing that went wrong for Miele on Thursday evening was when the flag that a Girl Scout was carrying during the presentation of colors hit a chandelier – which miraculously did not break. Even with the Clintonian length of Miele’s speech, the energy level in the ballroom remained high throughout the event.
Del. Joe Cluster (R), who also represents the 8th district, said Klausmeier has never had to run against a candidate of Miele’s caliber. Asked what worried him the most about the Miele-Klausmeier face-off, Cluster, a former executive director of the state GOP, replied, “Mike Miller.”
The Senate president, Cluster predicted, is sure to bring money and other resources to the race to keep Klausmeier in the Senate. Cluster suggested that Klausmeier is a reluctant candidate this time around and is running again mainly to appease Miller.
Klausmeier is personally popular in the district, Cluster conceded.
“She’s grandma,” he said. “But what they don’t have is an ace in the hole – and that’s Larry Hogan.”
Ana Faguy contributed to this report.