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."
He joins a field that includes Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar.
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.
"He has to be careful about how he presents himself," Crenson said. Though there are tea party activists in the Maryland Republican party, there are more moderates, he said. Hogan "needs to pitch his primary campaign to them rather than to the right wing of the party," Crenson added. "That will also enable him if he wins in the primary to do better in the general election."
Two of Hogan's rivals welcomed him, giving no indication of backing out.
"It's like, finally!" said George, remarking on the long run-up of publicity about Hogan eyeing the race. "I think it's healthy," George said of the extra competition.
Jim Pettit, spokesman for Craig, praised Hogan for calling attention through Change Maryland to the fiscal and economic issues on which all the Republican candidates are running. Pettit once worked for Change Maryland, generating some of the data Hogan frequently cites about businesses and affluent taxpayers leaving the state.
"Larry Hogan and Change Maryland have done an effective job building a media platform to help Marylanders understand the issues and problems that we face," Pettit said.
"The question," Pettit added, "is who among the candidates is best able to offer solutions." He noted Craig has been a state lawmaker, a mayor and county executive, and has governing experience in reducing taxes and attracting businesses in Harford.
Hogan said he believes if elected he can work with a Democrat-controlled legislature, recalling that as Ehrlich's appointments secretary, he had only one nomination that wasn't unanimously confirmed by lawmakers of both parties. Ehrlich's first choice to be secretary of the environment, Lynn Buhl, was rejected by the Senate.
Hogan is not expected to name a running mate this week. He has until Feb. 25 to choose a running mate and file candidacy papers.
Earlier this month, the Change Maryland web site began carrying the authority line of the Hogan for Governor campaign.
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said the conversion to an explicit arm of the Hogan campaign means the group should consult with the State Board of Elections to see whether any of its fundraising and spending need to be disclosed retroactively.
Steve Crim, a spokesman for Hogan for Governor, said the old organization never engaged in campaign activity. He said Hogan's campaign lawyers talked with the elections board and determined none of Change Maryland's activities needed to be reported.
Michael Dresser contributed to this story.
Job: CEO of the Hogan Cos.
Education: B.A., Florida State University
Experience: Businessman; appointments secretary for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Personal: Married, three daughtersCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun