A national small business group that has been active in Maryland endorsed state Del. Kathy Szeliga's campaign for the state's open Senate seat on Thursday.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses, which has over 4,000 members in the state and which helped to kill a controversial paid sick leave measure in the General Assembly earlier this year, cited Szeliga's business background.
Szeliga, a Baltimore County Republican, is the co-owner of a construction company.
Speaking in Baltimore at Betson Enterprises, a fourth-generation distributor of amusement and vending equipment, Szeliga pointed to the 2010 national health care law as the most onerous federal measure that she said has hurt small businesses in Maryland.
The law exempts small business owners with fewer than 50 employees from most of its requirements, but opponents say the law has affected the health insurance market in ways that reach even those small firms.
"What happens in Washington so often [is] people propose things that sound good but then when you get to the brass tacks it doesn't work," Szeliga said. "As a small business owner myself I know how hard it's been, especially over the past 10 years, to stay in business."
Szeliga is running against Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County for the Senate seat that will be left open next year by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's retirement. A recent poll by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks found Van Hollen significantly ahead in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a two-to-one margin.
Szeliga dismissed the survey's findings, saying she isn't surprised that a "career politician" was better known in the state and that the 29-point deficit was "exactly where Larry Hogan was two years ago." That's not entirely accurate: Democrat Anthony G. Brown had a significant lead in early polling, but be never led Hogan by more than 18 points.
By early October, two polls had Hogan within single digits.
"Another career politician that the Democrats have anointed to be their next senator is not what voters are looking for," Szeliga said.
Szeliga, who has touted her small business background during the course of the campaign, toured Betson and took a minute to try her hand at a "Ghostbusters" pinball machine. The company, which employs 14 people, distributes game and vending machines all over the state, from the boardwalk in Ocean City to government building lobbies.
Though the NFIB has endorsed state Democrats in the past, its candidates are mostly Republicans. The group's political action committee spent $1.4 million on independent expenditure advertising in the 2014 election cycle nationwide in competitive races. The group spent no ad money in Maryland in the 2014, 2012 or 2010 cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
"She's been one of our staunchest advocates for the small business community," said Mike O'Halloran, NFIB's state director in Maryland. "We've seen too many professional politicians that don't understand the hardships that small business owners face."