How Hogan won: Democrats stayed home in city, key counties

How did Hogan win?

Larry Hogan won his race for governor not just because Marylanders of both parties turned out to support his call for lower taxes, but because tens of thousands of Democrats in key jurisdictions stayed home.

Turnout plummeted in Baltimore city and Montgomery and Prince George's counties to the lowest levels in the state. In majority-African-American Baltimore and Prince George's, fewer than 40 percent of voters turned out to cast ballots in Democrat Anthony G. Brown's quest to be Maryland's first African-American governor.

Meanwhile, more than 50 percent of voters cast ballots in many counties where Hogan ran up huge majorities — particularly the Baltimore suburbs of Carroll, Harford and Anne Arundel.

Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College, said Hogan had a message that resonated with voters and Brown did not.

"Hogan saw early on that economic uncertainty in the state was high, and he focused on nothing but that," Eberly said.

At the same time, Eberly said, "Brown ran an unusually bad campaign. He sort of forgot to tell people why they should vote for him. He took for granted that in Maryland, the Democratic people would automatically vote for him."

The totals show that the Democrats' much-ballyhooed Get Out the Vote effort failed. President Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Michelle Obama all tried to pump up the vote for Brown, but nothing seemed to work.

Hogan's 76,000-vote victory came as Republicans across the country were winning congressional and gubernatorial races, and the GOP made significant gains in Maryland counties and in the General Assembly. But the result in Maryland's race for governor was based on more than a national dynamic, observers in both parties said.

The results demonstrate a lack of enthusiasm for Brown. In Baltimore, about 35,000 fewer voters turned out than four years ago — and Brown won a smaller percentage of the city vote than Gov. Martin O'Malley did then. Some 50,000 fewer people voted in Montgomery this time, and 30,000 fewer in Brown's home county of Prince George's.

State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Democrat who represents a majority African-American district in Northwest Baltimore, said her constituents weren't all that excited by the idea of an African-American governor after witnessing Barack Obama's election as president. Nor did they warm up to the reserved Brown, she said.

"People just didn't want to take him home," she said. "Politicians are supposed to be like puppies. You've got to let folks pet you ... and Anthony's just not that kind of guy."

To counter Hogan's case that Maryland is overtaxed and its business climate is abysmal, Brown barely mounted a defense of the O'Malley administration's record. Critics said his program at times sounded like "me too" — as when he pledged not to raise taxes and said it would be a top priority to make the state's business climate the best in the nation.

Instead of engaging Hogan on the economy, Brown's campaign attempted to turn voters' attention to social issues — trying in millions of dollars' worth of negative ads to portray Hogan as a radical conservative on abortion, birth control and guns. Hogan countered by pledging not to roll back any of those laws.

Baltimore Del. Curt Anderson said he and several other Democratic lawmakers tried to persuade Brown to pursue a positive strategy.

"We told him, 'Going negative is hurting you more than the other guy,'" Anderson said. "We begged him to go positive. His response was he would rather listen to his campaign strategists."

Hogan prevailed despite being outspent by roughly 5-to-1. By mid-October, Brown and the Democrats had spent $19.5 million, campaign finance reports show. Hogan and the Republicans spent $4 million.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis, said Wednesday that he didn't sense much energy from leaders of the jurisdictions "with the most to lose" under a Republican administration.

"From top to bottom, the Democratic Party in the state could have been better organized. I'm talking about the elected officials," Busch said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake rejected suggestions that city politicians didn't do enough to get out the vote in Baltimore.

"I worked very hard in collaboration with the campaign," Rawlings-Blake said. "I know everybody's waking up looking for somebody to blame."

Hogan supporters and others say he won the race with a smart, well-focused campaign developed over three years by the advocacy group he founded, Change Maryland.

Jim Pettit, a Republican strategist who worked for Change Maryland in 2012 and 2013, said the organization did the research that formed the basis of the Hogan campaign and built his name recognition through social media. It was, he said, a "brilliant strategy."

"Larry Hogan was a disciplined candidate. Larry stayed on message relentlessly — in his speeches, in his press releases and on social media he repeated his message early and often," Pettit said.

Hogan's explanation is that he and running mate Boyd Rutherford won because of an "overwhelming sense of frustration" among voters.

"Every single day, everywhere we went, people were coming up to me and Boyd repeatedly and saying, 'We're lifelong Democrats, but we're voting for you. We've never voted for a Republican in our life.'"

Baltimore Sun reporters Erin Cox and Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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