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Hogan announces last-minute bid for Senate

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Hogan announces last-minute bid for Senate

Feb 09, 2024 | 12:12 pm ET
By Bryan P. Sears
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Hogan announces last-minute bid for Senate
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Gov. Larry Hogan (R) delivered a farewell address, standing in front of a statue of George Washington in the Old Senate Chamber in the Maryland State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Former Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who for years disavowed any interest in serving in the U.S. Senate, has had a change of heart and announced a last-minute bid for Maryland’s vacant Senate seat on Friday afternoon — hours before the filing deadline for candidates to enter the May 14 primary.

In an announcement video that lasted 2 minutes and 48 seconds, with Hogan directly addressing the camera, he cast his decision to run as a crusade to bring common sense and courtesy to the broken politics of Capitol Hill.

“Like a vast majority of Marylanders, I’m completely fed up with politics as usual,” Hogan said. “Politicians in Washington seem more interested in arguing than in getting anything done for the people they represent. Enough is enough. We can do so much better — but not if we keep electing the same kind of partisan politicians. Look, I don’t come from the performative art school of politics. I come from the get to work and get things done school. And I’ll work with anyone who wants to work on the people’s business.”

Hogan quietly filed his candidacy papers at the Maryland State Board of Elections office in Annapolis on Friday morning, Maryland State Elections Administrator Jared DeMarinis confirmed.

‘We know what’s at stake in this election’

His decision to become a candidate instantly transforms the race to replace departing U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D) — a seat the Democrats felt confident they would hold in November but now will have to defend in a general election that is likely to be costly and nasty.

Hogan will also have to revisit some issues he was able to sidestep as Maryland governor.

Topping that list is abortion.

As governor, Hogan described himself as a pro-life Catholic but called the issue “settled law” in Maryland. Even so, Hogan vetoed a bill that expanded abortion access in the state. He also withheld $3 million to increase the number of providers.

Should Hogan win the primary, he’ll find himself on the same general election ballot as an amendment enshrining abortion access in the Maryland Constitution, which abortion rights supporters and Democrats are using to drive voter turnout. He’s also likely to be on a Republican ticket headed by former President Donald Trump, who is wildly unpopular in Maryland.

The leading contenders in the Democratic Senate primary are Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) and U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-6th).

Trone and Alsobrooks put out statements shortly after Hogan’s announcement, each revealing aspects of the attacks Democrats are likely to hurl at Hogan throughout the campaign.

Trone’s sought to tie the popular former governor to Trump and to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who could be back in charge of the Senate if Republicans pick up just one or two seats this November, depending on the outcome of the White House election.

“Larry Hogan’s candidacy is nothing but a desperate attempt to return Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump to power and give them the deciding vote to ban abortion nationwide, suppress votes across the country, and give massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans,” Trone said. “Marylanders are tired of empty promises from career politicians like Larry Hogan.”

Alsobrooks also leaned into the abortion issue in her statement.

“We know what’s at stake in this election — our fundamental freedoms over our bodies,” she said. “When I join the Democratic Majority, I’ll be a leader in fighting to defend those freedoms because I’m the only person in this race — on either side — who’s never compromised on that issue.”

Without directly saying so, Alsobrooks also suggested that unlike Trone and Hogan, two wealthy businessmen, she is the only candidate “who understands the challenges Marylanders face.”

Within hours of Hogan’s announcement, Alsobrooks began a fundraising push on social media based on Hogan’s abortion stance.

Trone’s campaign put out a memo from the campaign manager, arguing that the congressman is the stronger general election candidate against Hogan.

A change of heart

Hogan’s announcement stunned Maryland political leaders on both sides of the aisle.

Over the last two years, the former governor has repeatedly rejected the idea of seeking a job on Capitol Hill.

Hogan’s video offered no insight into his change of mind.

“The former governor never showed a great deal of interest in the legislature previously,” said state Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). “I’m surprised he’s interested in throwing his hat in the ring for U.S. Senate.”

Senate Minority Leader Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore) said he was unaware of Hogan’s decision until hearing about the announcement at midday Friday.

“We’ll have to see what his plans are,” Hershey said. “I would imagine he believes he has a path to victory.”

Can Hogan win a primary or general election again in the current political climate? Can he win with Trump at the top of the ticket?

“These are all interesting questions,” Hershey said. “You would have to think he’d have no problem in a Republican primary. I imagine he’s completely geared toward the general election. That was his model in 2014. He had Republican challenges in 2014 but his campaign was always against O’Malley/Brown. I imagine he would do a campaign that is very similar to that and be 100% focused on how he can achieve enough votes in the general election.”

The political landscape is very different today than when Hogan rode a purple wave to a 2014 upset victory over Democrat Anthony Brown, who was then the lieutenant governor.

Two years later, Trump would win the White House — he lost Maryland handily. That win changed the trajectory of the GOP.

Hogan, a vocal critic of Trump, held his coalition of Democrat, Republican and independent voters in 2018 and cruised to a landslide victory, becoming just the second Republican governor to serve two consecutive terms in the history of the state.

Trump Republicans soured on Hogan as his second term came to an end.

In the 2022 GOP primary to replace Hogan, they rejected the governor’s hand-picked successor Kelly Schulz for one-term Del. Dan Cox, a Trump supporter the governor repeatedly called a conspiracy theorist and “Q-Anon whack job,” who organized buses to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021.

Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College and director of the Goucher Poll, said Hogan has the best shot in the Republican primary field to be competitive in the general election.

“He’s the only Republican in the state primary that I can identify that has a chance,” said Kromer, who is the author of the 2022 book “Blue-State Republican: How Larry Hogan Won Where Republicans Lose, and Lessons for a Future GOP.” “Larry Hogan might not be everything [Republicans] love but he’s everything they need.”

Seven other candidates are seeking the GOP nomination, including Robin Ficker, the Montgomery County anti-tax gadfly and Chris Chaffee, who was the Republican nominee against U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) in 2022. The closest thing to an “establishment” Republican candidate before Hogan entered the race was John Teichert, a retired brigadier general, who has racked up endorsements from several current and former elected Republicans, including Hogan’s lieutenant governor, Boyd Rutherford. In a statement, Teichert welcomed Hogan to the contest.

“The beauty of living in this great republic that I fought to defend for over three decades is that we give Americans a choice about who represents us in elected public office,” he said.

Ficker, who rushed to be at Hogan’s side during the 2018 election, when he was the GOP nominee for Montgomery County executive and Hogan was running for reelection, has since aligned himself with Trump, and blasted the former governor on Friday.

“Larry Hogan jumping into this race makes absolutely no sense,” Ficker said.

Polling a path to victory

Hogan polled frequently during his first campaign for governor. It was a habit that continued through his eight years in the State House.

Even though Hogan filed to run at the deadline, his political action committee — An America United — was created in 2019 and could conduct polling. It seems inconceivable that Hogan would have entered the Senate race without deep polling data to buttress his decision.

“He’s not going into this without at least some sense of his chances,” Kromer said. “Larry Hogan understands where the public is on a lot of issues, including him.”

Michael Ricci, a spokesman for the newly minted Hogan Senate campaign, said Hogan has no media availability planned yet for Friday or the weekend.

Hogan intimates said Friday that the former governor decided to run for Senate because despite his reluctance to join the hyper-partisan atmosphere on Capitol Hill, he still had a desire to serve in political office. Hogan had flirted with running for president, both as a Republican and as an independent with the No Labels organization, but ultimately concluded that the Senate race would be the best way back into politics and public service.

Hogan received entreaties to run in recent weeks not just from McConnell and other Senate GOP leaders, but from top national Republican strategists and former President George W. Bush — whose brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), was the featured speaker at Hogan’s second inauguration in 2019.

Polls have continued to show that Hogan remains very popular with Maryland voters since he left office in January 2023. And despite his fealty to the Republican Party, particularly a Reagan-era GOP that looks almost nothing like the national Republican Party of today, he has prospered politically by criticizing Trump and appealing to moderate Democrats and independents.

The last Republican to win a Senate election in Maryland was the late Sen. Charles “Mac” Mathias, a liberal who captured his third term in 1980. Democrats have also dominated at the presidential level in the state since 1992.

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political handicapping organization affiliated with University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, said it would move its rating of the Maryland Senate race Friday from “safe Democratic” to “likely Democratic.”

“My guess is Hogan leads early polls but generally the lack of ticket-splitting required is a huge lift,” Kyle Kondik, one of the Crystal Ball analysts, wrote Friday on X.

In his announcement video, Hogan referenced his father, the late Congressman Lawrence Hogan Sr., who broke with fellow Republicans in the 1970s and paid the political price.

“Fifty years ago, my father, Maryland Congressman Larry Hogan Sr., made a very tough decision: He became the first Republican congressman to come out for the impeachment of President Nixon,” Hogan said. “He put aside party politics and his own personal considerations, and he stepped up to do the right thing for Maryland and the nation. Today, Washington is completely broken, because that kind of leadership, that kind of willingness to put country over party, has become far too rare.”

Hogan, as he often has during his political career, tried to cast himself in the mold of his father.

“My fellow Marylanders, you know me,” he said. “For eight years, we proved that the toxic politics that divide our nation need not divide our state.”

But a race for a Senate seat, in a narrowly divided Congress, where debates and votes usually lack nuance, has a different dynamic altogether, and Hogan will be asked to take sides on issues this year in a way that he didn’t when he was campaigning for governor. However Marylanders may like Hogan, it’s still a Democratic state, and given Maryland’s proximity to Washington, D.C., many voters are well aware of the stakes in the Senate election, and how one seat could impact the direction of the country.

Even if Hogan doesn’t win, his candidacy ensures that Democrats will have to invest money on the Maryland Senate race that they didn’t anticipate spending, hurting the party’s efforts to hold on to vulnerable seats in Ohio, Montana, Arizona and elsewhere.

It’s “a great development for R’s to expand the map a bit,” Kondik wrote.

Kromer said Hogan will face a different challenge as Democrats and independents in Maryland go to the polls with one eye on state elections and the other on which party controls the Senate.

“The balance of power will be an issue for voters in Maryland,” she said.