If Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan decides to run for president would he be able to secure enough support to win his home state in a competitive GOP primary election?
Hogan’s more moderate brand of Republicanism appears to be at odds with a party that has many voters who are still enthusiastic about former President Donald Trump and his MAGA populist vision.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic Hogan angered many MAGA-type Republicans by imposing lockdowns and mandates. “Just wear a damn mask” and “Just get the damn vaccine” were frequent retorts by the governor. Hogan also angered many conservatives by calling out Trump on his demonstrably false claim that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen and by calling for Trump to resign following the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the then-president.
And, yes, MAGA Republican primary voters are a force to be reckoned with even in states like Maryland where Trump lost to President Joe Biden by more than 30 percentage points.
How do we know this?
Just last month former Hogan cabinet secretary and Republican standard-bearer Kelly Schulz lost the GOP gubernatorial primary election by double-digits to ultra-conservative conspiracy theory touting Trump-loyalist Del. Dan Cox, R-Frederick and Carroll.
Because Hogan backed Schulz and Trump backed Cox and Cox won, some pundits have since argued that the repudiation of Schulz essentially amounts to a repudiation of Hogan among the same constituency that helped thrust the now highly popular two-term governor onto the political stage nearly a decade ago.
Potential 2024 presidential candidates
It is unclear if Trump will run for president again. Or if either former Vice President Mike Pence or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will decide to run and take up the MAGA mantle. Or maybe Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who recently lost a primary election to a Trump-backed candidate, will decide to run for president. At this point, we just do not know what the 2024 field will look like.
We also do not know if Hogan will run. But he has given some indication that he might, such as having recently traveled to New Hampshire and Iowa and Nebraska to campaign for Republicans who seemingly share his vision of where the party should go.
That is the national picture.
But closer to home, there are more pressing questions about a potential Hogan presidential bid.
State lawmakers and political analysts weigh-in
First, if Hogan does run, can he win over the Maryland Republicans who enthusiastically nominated him twice but have since rejected his political protege and chosen successor? Second, does Schulz’s defeat signal that Hogan would be at risk of losing his home state in a presidential primary?
“I am not sure if it is as simple and direct an analysis as that,” Del. Jason Buckel, R-Allegany, told Baltimore Post-Examiner.
Buckel, who is the top Republican in the House of Delegates, added: “What we have found is that many voters in the Republican Party are not satisfied with the progress and the direction that the state has made over the past four years. Whether you can put that at the feet of Governor Hogan, who is trying hard to implement policies that most Republican voters would have preferred-or whether you simply chalk that up to the reality of the Democratic legislature that passes a lot of legislation that we believe is not good for Maryland and overturns pretty much every veto the governor issues-that is an open question.”
Buckel said Hogan’s sometimes vocal opposition to Trump could hurt him with some of the state’s Republican primary voters.
“There are some people in Maryland who are fans of former President Trump who probably take it personally the way that Hogan seems to make it a point to be against Trump in most circumstances. I think there are others who frankly feel like we have simply not accomplished enough…After eight years I am not sure. I have met a lot of people who are not sure if Maryland has really changed all that much from a policy perspective and an outcome perspective.”
Buckel said Maryland’s economy is undoubtedly much better now than it was when Hogan was first elected in 2014. However, the minority leader also stressed that many of state’s more rural and Republican strongholds-such as the eastern shore and western Maryland-have not experienced the same level of economic prosperity as that of the predominately Democratic Baltimore-Washington metropolitan region. Buckel said support for Cox in rural areas can partly be viewed as evidence of that fact.
As for whether Hogan would carry Maryland in a presidential primary, Buckel said he is not sure.
“It obviously would depend on who the other candidates are and a variety of other factors that are difficult to predict this far out. I do not think that it would be a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination. I think Hogan would certainly be competitive in his home state.”
Former Republican National Committee Chairman and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele said it is too early to assess how Hogan might perform in any presidential primary.
“I do not know what a Larry Hogan presidential campaign would look like or sound like. You do not judge anything until you see it in action and get the reaction of voters.”
Steele addressed recent polls showing that Trump is more popular than Hogan among Maryland Republicans and that Maryland Democrats have a more favorable opinion of the GOP governor than do members of his own party.
“I think those polls are reflective of an attitude shift that is much more toxic. Go back eight, nine, ten months, or a year ago. Go back and look at those polls. And you will see that that is not the case. Going into Larry’s re-election that was not the case. He had something like 80% approval among Republicans. You do not get to sit at 75% approval just on Democratic votes. That is not how the math works.”
Del. Brian Chisholm, R-Anne Arundel, said he does not believe Hogan could carry Maryland in a GOP presidential primary.
“No. Because you need Republicans to show up and vote. The Republicans that vote in primaries are the ones that are the most in-tune, the most conservative, and the most red-meat Republicans. And he (Hogan) does not carry favor with harder-red Republicans. He is very popular with moderates, independents and Democrats.”
Chisholm said the state’s GOP gubernatorial primary was essentially a Hogan vs Trump proxy war.
“It really did become a Trump vs Hogan rather than a Schulz vs Cox in a lot of primary voters’ minds. Over the past four years many conservatives like myself just got tired of what we viewed to be a tyrannical government with the mandates and basically scolding people for not wearing a mask.”
Todd Eberly, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s College, said how Hogan might perform in a Maryland GOP presidential primary is somewhat difficult to assess.
“If Trump is not on the ballot it is an open question as to whether Hogan would win over the folks who otherwise would have voted for Trump. I suspect that many of them would see DeSantis as their second choice. The recent GOP primary in Maryland showed that at least half of GOP primary voters preferred more confrontational Trump-minded candidates-regardless of the considerable baggage they carry and their extremely limited appeal in a general election.”
Still, Eberly said Maryland Republicans would probably choose Hogan as their candidate for governor for a third time if that was an option.
“It is a bit more difficult to say whether or not the rejection of Schulz is akin to a rejection of Hogan. Hogan continues to enjoy a high approval rating among Maryland Republicans and I think it is a safe assumption that had Hogan been able to seek a 3rd term he would have easily secured renomination.”
Response from the governor’s office
Hogan’s communications director, Michael Ricci, said the governor’s conservative credentials speak for themselves.
“The governor’s standing among Marylanders of all stripes is rock solid, and his record of conservative achievements in the state is unmatched.”
Ricci admonished Hogan’s Republican critics.
Bryan is a freelance political journalist who has extensive experience covering Congress and Maryland state government.
His work includes coverage of the election of Donald Trump, the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and attorneys general William Barr and Jeff Sessions-as well as that of the Maryland General Assembly, Gov. Larry Hogan, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bryan has broken stories involving athletic and sexual assault scandals with the Baltimore Post-Examiner.
His original UMBC investigation gained international attention, was featured in People Magazine and he was interviewed by ABC’s “Good Morning America” and local radio stations. Bryan broke subsequent stories documenting UMBC’s omission of a sexual assault on their daily crime log and a federal investigation related to the university’s handling of an alleged sexual assault.