Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan has emerged as a major force in his party's chase for campaign cash, collecting more money since he joined the race three months ago than his rivals took in all of last year, figures from the campaign show.
The real-estate executive and former aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. reports raising more than $453,000 since he announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination in late January. And he has nearly as much cash in the bank as his closest rival, Harford County Executive David R. Craig, reported earlier this year.
"It's clearly going to cement the idea that Hogan is the front-runner in this race," said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland. "If folks don't think [the others] can raise the money, perception becomes reality."
In an interview, Hogan said the money will allow the campaign to expand its radio and cable television advertising to reach a statewide audience before the June 24 primary. The campaign has already spent more than $333,000 and has just under $168,000 in the bank.
"Our message is really catching on," Hogan said. "We think the momentum has been incredible."
But figures tallied for a state report due Tuesday night show that the campaign hasn't qualified for public financing, according to a spokesman.
Hogan's rivals dismissed the haul, which the Hogan campaign was expected to detail in its first campaign finance report. A spokesman for Craig said Hogan's conservative advocacy group, Change Maryland, acted as a de facto early campaign operation, allowing Hogan to connect more quickly with donors than other candidates.
"The question I have is, how sustainable is Larry Hogan's fundraising?" said Craig spokesman Jim Pettit, who once worked for Change Maryland. "I can imagine that … there could be an initial burst, but the question is will that last?"
Direct comparisons with other Republican candidates are difficult because the rest of the GOP field — which entered the race months ago — filed campaign finance reports in January. Craig, who formally entered the race in June, raised more than $273,000 last year and had about $183,000 on hand, according to the earlier report.
Pettit would not say how much the campaign has on hand now. Most other campaigns will not file again until the end of May.
Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County, who also entered the race in June, raised just over $136,000 last year and had $15,450 in the bank. George said the comparison wasn't appropriate in part because, as a state lawmaker, he did not raise money during the General Assembly session that ended last week.
"I don't think you can read too much into his numbers," George said. "I'm making up a lot of ground right now."
Hogan's roughly $453,000 fundraising total does not include a $100,000 loan he gave to his own campaign. It does include more than $52,000 of in-kind contributions.
None of the Republicans has come close to the money already raised on the Democratic side of the governor's race. The front runner, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, reported in January having slightly more than $7 million in the bank. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler had about $6.3 million on hand at that time.
In a Baltimore Sun poll in February, Hogan led the field in the GOP primary race with 13 percent. Craig garnered 7 percent, George had 6 percent and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar 5 percent.
Nearly 7 in 10 Republican voters at the time remained undecided, the poll found.
Maryland's public financing system, which is available only to campaigns for governor, is not funded by taxes. The money comes from voluntary checkoffs on Maryland tax forms, collected before the General Assembly halted the practice in 2010.
To receive matching funds, Hogan will have to raise at least $258,612 in individual donations of $250 or less and agree to a $2.5 million spending limit. The last Republican candidate to accept public financing was Ellen R. Sauerbrey in 1994.
Hogan is the founder and chairman of Change Maryland, which has devoted itself to reversing the direction in which Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley has taken the state, especially on fiscal policy. Hogan has criticized the O'Malley administration for increasing state spending and raising taxes, fees and tolls.
He's the son of Lawrence J. Hogan, a congressman who was also the last Republican Prince George's County executive. Larry Hogan considered running against O'Malley in 2010. However, when his former boss Ehrlich made a late entry, he stepped aside. Ehrlich went on to lose to O'Malley by a wide margin.
In January, Hogan named Boyd Rutherford as his running mate. Rutherford served as secretary of general services during the Ehrlich administration.