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Maryland: Is This the Senate Seat Most Likely to Flip Republican?

The Old Line State calls itself “America in Miniature”—and perhaps this will prove true in more ways than one.

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Let Hercules himself do what he may, the cat will mew and every dog will have his day—even when the dog in question is the generally hapless Maryland GOP. 

The Old Line State’s federal legislators have a tendency to stick around for quite a while—Steny Hoyer, the former House Majority Leader, has been in the lower chamber since 1981—but from time to time one of these old crocodiles will shuffle off the scene, leaving a spot for a (relatively) younger, more energetic crocodile. Ben Cardin, who serves as one half of Maryland’s Senate complement, announced in May 2023 that he will not be seeking reelection.


This would not ordinarily be a cause for breaking out the champagne among the state Republicans, who haven’t fielded a senator since 1977. Further, the party is coming off an embarrassing 2022 cycle, in which they continued to be a non-factor in the state legislature—the Dems added three seats to their existing supermajority in the House of Delegates—and picked up no new Congressional seats. Worst, perhaps, the America First gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox was roundly punished at the ballot box, 64.5–32.1. Cox had won a primary battle with Kelly Schulz, the anointed successor of Larry Hogan, the popular two-term governor. Schulz was all wet, and her heart didn’t seem to be in the race—she didn’t seem interested in winning over the right wing of the state party, for example declining to answer the Maryland Right to Life’s abortion policy questionnaire. 

Maryland is in some respects electorally similar to Massachusetts—a handful of dense blue counties, along with Baltimore City, ensure that the state legislature generally remains Democratic; yet there are enough rural voters and enough disgruntled high-net-worth taxpayers in the blue districts that the GOP has been able convincingly to contend for the governor’s mansion in the past decade and a half. (Before Rob Ehrlich’s 2003 election, the last Republican governor had been Spiro Agnew.) This is the sort of state party that has been ill served by the America First realignment; the overall share of the vote has not grown, but the core of the party has grown more hardline in its positions. In Maryland, the mythical Republican swing voter actually exists, and he’s none too excited by Cox’s hawkish efforts on behalf of Donald Trump’s anti–election fraud crusade.

But it’s a moment of weakness for the blue team, too. David Trone, the popular District 6 representative who had been the presumptive replacement for Cardin, is embroiled in a scandal. He uttered a word during a congressional hearing that I have never heard and frankly sounds made up, but is apparently a fairly full-bodied anti-black slur. If you are a Maryland Democrat, you can’t do that—at least not anymore. (Long gone are the days when the state party threw in for George Wallace.) His main challenger, Angela Alsobrooks, is looking to make the long-shot jump from Prince George’s County Executive to the national legislature’s upper chamber. If Gov. Wes Moore and other high-ranking state Democrats formally come out against Trone, a sufficient number of strictly party men may make cause with Alsobrooks’s black core constituency to elevate her.

Alsobrooks is a weak candidate—suffice it to say that Prince George’s County is not synonymous with good government in the state. (In 2010, the county executive, Jack Johnson, went to prison on good old-fashioned graft charges. Ladies and gentlemen, the Democrats!) She will be even weaker coming out of a hotly contested primary in which the moderate, bog-standard Maryland machine creature is publicly beaten with an identity-politics-inflected stick. 

In the face of this disarray, the Republicans are set to get it together to nominate that beloved former governor—Larry Hogan. Hogan won his 2014 election soundly, 51–47.3; his second term was a mandate 55.4–43.5, won even in the face of anti-Trumpian headwinds in the suburbs. The state ran a surplus under his supervision, and he successfully thwarted many of the zanier efforts from the liberal state legislature. In 2022, he had an approval rating of 70 percent. These are the marks of a winner. 

The right wing of the state party came to dislike him for Covid lockdowns, but, for better or worse, the national bad feelings around the Emergency of 2020 have faded. His public break with Trump is harder to get around, but the fundamental question remains, Whom would you rather have? They’re not going to be voting for Alsobrooks in Garrett County. Despite the beef between Hogan and Trump, the Marylander has shown himself loyal to the party, apparently shrugging the dreams of the erstwhile No Labels project without much second thought. It should be easy enough for the men to bury the tomahawk, especially as Trump tacks toward the center for the general election. And polling already shows Hogan winning against Trone.

Whom would you rather have? This is the question that may sweep Trump back into the White House. Despite the gloomy conventional wisdom about the GOP’s chances in the legislature, it is also a cause for hope down ticket—even in the land of the crab and the rockfish.