Nobody saw it coming. Nobody expected Larry Hogan would run for U.S. Senate.
Having covered the man closely for the last decade, I took him at his word two years ago when he said he was not interested in being a U.S. senator. That was fully consistent with the Larry Hogan I had come to know since he launched Change Maryland in 2011.
Larry Hogan has an executive personality. He likes being in charge, making things happen. He doesn’t like negotiating or even consulting with legislators, even with members of his own Republican Party.
In American politics, there are really no jobs better than being a governor, especially the governor of Maryland, constitutionally one of the most powerful chief executives among the 50 states.
That’s what former governors, including some of the 14 serving in the Senate, told Governing magazine two years ago in a piece titled “Why Being Governor Is the Best Job in Politics.” “Serving in the Senate or a presidential cabinet is considered a step up for governors,” said the subhead. “Except among governors themselves.”
That’s among the reasons Hogan declined to run for Senate two years ago despite heavy recruiting by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans.
There is only one political office better than living and working in the historic old buildings on State Circle in Annapolis. That job is living and working in a historic old house and office just 30 miles away at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Flirting with a presidential run
Hogan flirted with running for president. He is realistic enough to know that an anti-Trump Republican like himself has no chance in the current GOP. That’s why he turned to the No Labels movement, which he co-chaired till December and may or may not field a presidential ticket this year.
Late in his second term he also founded An America United, “an advocacy organization that rejects the extremes of both political parties, works to break the partisan gridlock, and seeks to bring people together to advance bold, common-sense solutions for all Americans,” as its website describes itself.
Hogan clearly wanted to stay relevant and engaged. Even after leaving office, he was still a regular on cable news – an anti-Trump Republican ex-governor from a blue state.
If Hogan hadn’t waited till the last day to file for U.S. Senate, other Republicans to his right and Trump supporters might have been tempted to run against him in the primary. Of the other seven Republicans running for the seat now held by retiring Sen. Ben Cardin, only two have name recognition, including the Republican nominee for Senate two years ago who got 34% of the vote against incumbent Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen. Even most Republicans would be hard-pressed to remember that man’s name – Chris Chaffee. He didn’t raise or spend enough money to report the figures to the Federal Election Commission.
The other perennial candidate is Robin Ficker, who campaigns for all the federal and state offices he invariably loses.
For Trump supporters and hard-right Republicans, Hogan is a RINO, a Republican in name only due to his cooperation with Democratic legislators and particularly his shut-down policies during COVID-19. It’s conceivable former president Trump might endorse an opponent. But Maryland Republicans might be realistic enough to know that he may be the only Republican who could possibly win statewide office in Maryland. Hogan is also a prodigious fundraiser and will be well-funded by national Republicans who hope to regain control of the U.S. Senate.
That is both an advantage and to his detriment among the Democrats and independents, he must win. The national election landscape favors Republicans regaining the majority in the Senate. A Hogan victory to claim what has been considered a safe Democratic seat could clinch the deal.
Then there are Hogan’s views on hot-button political issues. Progressive Democrats scoff at the idea that Hogan is a moderate. Even he has described himself as a Ronald Reagan Republican.
Abortion on the ballot
As governor, he avoided taking positions on hot-button social issues, and was seen as a counterweight to the Democratic supermajority in the legislature.
But this year, access to abortion is not just the strongest issue energizing the Democratic base and even some Republicans and independents. Maryland voters will be asked to approve an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing reproductive rights here, including abortion.
Hogan will be hard-pressed to avoid making his personal opposition to abortion known. If he won’t, Democrats will.
As Goucher College pollster and political science professor Mileah Kromer put it on X, “Yes, absolutely, Hogan has a *significant* uphill battle to win a US Senate seat in Maryland” but “I’d still avoid an outright, immediate dismissal of a two-term governor who maintained a consistent mid-60’s/low-70’s approval rating for 8 years.”
Hogan surprised the Democrats with his win in 2014. They best not underestimate him again.
Whichever of the two leading Democratic candidates for Senate wins the primary – Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks or U.S. Rep. David Trone – the May primary will not be the end of the contest. They will have to spend millions more to keep the seat Democratic.
Republished with permission from MarylandReporter.com
Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board. He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009.