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Hogan Is Blowing the Maryland Senate Race

A Republican can’t win by being Democrat Lite.

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The forces of Maryland politics are conspiring to make a jackass out of your humble correspondent, which he doesn’t appreciate—he has that base covered all by himself. 

First we argued that Rep. David Trone, a grotesquely wealthy arriviste with bog-standard liberal politics, had it sewn up for the Democratic nomination for senate against Angela Alsobrooks. Trone’s polls were sagging as the primary approached, but Alsobrooks’s highest title to date is executive of Prince George’s County (not a name synonymous with good government in the Old Line State). Even Spiro Agnew, erstwhile Baltimore County executive, spent some time in the Governor’s Mansion before leaping into national politics. Alsobrooks walked away with it, 53 percent to 42—Trone didn’t even cover the spread. So be it. Every gambler loses some, for better or worse. We wrote about it.


We then predicted that the solidly popular former governor, Larry Hogan, would be in good shape to capture the seat for the Republicans in the general election. Preliminary polling had shown him in a dead heat or edging out both Trone and Alsobrooks. Hogan was a recognizable character in American politics, the red governor of a blue state. You wouldn’t want him for president, but he was probably a cut better than your Parris Glendenningses and Martin O’Malleys. He had run a budget surplus while actually improving services like the Motor Vehicles Administration and beating cancer, which is (we are told) a big sympathy-winner. The right wing of Maryland Republicans regarded him as a bit of a squish, especially after some high-profile differences with President Donald Trump, but it didn’t seem insurmountable in a cycle that has seen the 45th president dance away from social issues and endorse whatever centrists are willing to smoke the peace pipe.

It is now a month and a half later. The latest polling shows Hogan’s support in the mid-30s, more than 10 points behind Alsobrooks. So far from fielding a competitive showing against a weak candidate, Hogan is wandering into the realm of pain where people use words like “blowout” and “landslide” and (our favorite, watch for this one here when he loses) “massacre.”

Alsobrooks is still a weak candidate; the same poll that showed Hogan 11 points behind pegged her support at an anemic 48 percent. (This is in a state where there are more than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans.) So what happened?

A couple things. First, Hogan in mid-May vowed that he would be a pro-choice senator, coming out in favor of codifying Roe v. Wade at the federal level. The play here is obvious. The prevailing theory of Republican defeat in 2022 is that the Dobbs decision freaked out fiscally conservative (or at any rate, anti-tax) but socially liberal suburbanites. The first problem is that he had previously touted himself as a pro-life Catholic and as governor made marginal moves to restrict abortion access in the state. The Maryland Democrats have not forgotten. The second problem is that this disavows one of the GOP’s greatest victories at the federal level, and cuts against the party’s current states’ rights approach to the issue. Gratuitously, too—nobody is very worried that abortion is about to be banned in Maryland. 

Then, worse, Hogan vocally repudiated Trump’s peace overtures, saying that he has “no interest” in an endorsement after the former president had said he would like to see Hogan win his race. The reasoning is analogous—the theory is that the Trump name is poison in the suburbs, so running away from it is the thing to do.

This is a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach. Trump is at the top of the party’s ticket, whether you like it or not; while the Maryland GOP relies on swinging suburbanites, the party’s rural bloc is all in on Trump. Your humble correspondent lives in the country. Outside the teeming college-town metropole of our county seat, the political (and physical) landscape is indistinguishable from the Pennsylvania exurbs that carried Trump to the presidency. These voters are the reason the GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2020 was a hardline lawyer involved in the former president’s election-fraud suits rather than Hogan’s anointed successor; they are a plurality of the state’s actual Republican base, such as it is. With a Trump endorsement, we suspect they would have held their noses to vote for Hogan (“the bald freak,” in local parlance). Without it—well, spite is a powerful thing. For the GOP to win statewide office, you need all those voters, as well as a share of the suburbs. 

Hogan has tacked to the center and overshot. A voter may reasonably ask, If the Republican candidate is at war with the party leadership and has repudiated a huge part of the national party’s successes and current program, why not just vote for the Democrat? 

Why not, indeed. A Republican cannot win by being Democrat Lite; there is a difference between moderating and pandering. The modal American voter isn’t infinitely wise, but he isn’t hopelessly dumb, either. He would rather vote for the real McCoy than a red carbon copy of the other guy—or sit it out. Trump’s 2024 campaign has been a canny, almost Nixonian study in balancing moderation and differentiation. On the other hand, Hogan appears to be making a beeline for the ash-heap with John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller.