Ending months of speculation, conservative activist and real estate executive Larry Hogan is getting into the race for governor, running as a political outsider to "bring fiscal responsibility and common sense to Annapolis."
The former appointments secretary for the state's last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., is to formally announce Tuesday evening in Annapolis that he's seeking the GOP nomination. He joins three other Republican contenders who despite launching campaigns months ago have yet to raise much money or garner a lot of attention in a bid to end Democratic dominance of state government.
Hogan, chief executive of the Hogan Cos., a commercial and residential land brokerage, said he's running because he believes he has the best chance of winning in November against whichever Democrat emerges from a bruising primary fight among Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Montgomery County Del. Heather Mizeur.
"I think the state's way off track, headed in the wrong direction," Hogan said in an interview Monday in his new campaign headquarters in Annapolis. He added that polls he's seen show "an overwhelming majority of Marylanders want to see dramatic change of direction in Annapolis."
The primary election is June 24.
Like his rivals, Hogan has criticized the O'Malley administration for increasing state spending and raising taxes, fees and tolls. He said he's for cutting taxes and establishing a more business-friendly environment in the state. But beyond vowing, when asked, to repeal storm-water fees imposed in Baltimore and the state's nine largest counties, he declined to spell out his platform or what if any differences he has with his rivals.
"We agree on a lot of things," he said of the other Republican candidates. But, he said, "They haven't generated much enthusiasm or excitement or raised any money. That's one of the reasons why people were so really trying to encourage me to get into the race. Because they feel like this is an opportunity to have a competitive race in November, and they felt that I was the only one that could give that."
All three of Hogan's opponents reported small bank balances in their campaign finance returns filed last week – ensuring that Hogan's late start will not be a significant disadvantage.
Craig, considered the front-runner before Hogan's entry, reported $182,613 in cash on hand. George disclosed only $15,450 in the bank, and Lollar ended the reporting period with $5,731.
In contrast, Democrats Brown and Gansler reported having about $7 million and $6.3 million, respectively.
Hogan is the founder and chairman of Change Maryland, a conservative activist group which has devoted itself to reversing the direction in which Gov. Martin O'Malley has taken the state – especially on fiscal policy.
He's the son of Lawrence J. Hogan, a congressman who was also the last Republican Prince George's County executive. The junior Hogan came close to running against O'Malley in 2010. However, when his former boss Ehrlich made a late entry, Hogan stepped aside. Ehrlich went on to lose to O'Malley by a wide margin.
Since 2010, Hogan has concentrated on building Change Maryland. He said the group is about 75,000 strong, including Democrats and independents, and that its Facebook page drew nearly 300,000 views after he said in November that he planned to run.
Observers say Hogan's candidacy brings new energy to the GOP race for governor.
"A great rule of capitalism in politics is that competition increases quality," said Herbert Smith, political science professor at McDaniel College in Westminster.
Hogan's role in the Ehrlich administration vetting appointments is "usually not the training arena for future governors," Smith said. But he and others said Hogan's lack of electoral experience may prove an asset to voters disillusioned with incumbents.
Richard Cross, former speechwriter and press secretary for Ehrlich, said Hogan is not handicapped by joining a race that's already well under way because of his activities through Change Maryland.
"Larry has an advantage over the other people running," Cross said. "His message has been all about change," Cross said, which "plays well into the dynamics of the moment."
"Whoever wins the GOP primary still faces an uphill fight in a state where the vast majority of voters are registered Democrats, noted Matthew Crenson, political scientist at Johns Hopkins University.