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Maryland GOP revels in victory at convention in Ellicott City

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan promised rank-and-file Republicans reveling in election wins this year that, his calls for bipartisanship notwithstanding, he plans to expand the state's GOP during the next four years.

"Obviously, to get things done here in Maryland, you have to reach across the aisle," Hogan told a packed ballroom at the Maryland Republican Party Convention in Ellicott City on Saturday.

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But, he added, "don't hesitate for a minute to think that I'm going to work side by side with you, as hard as I can, to try to help continue to build the Maryland Republican Party," Hogan said to several hundred jubilant Republicans. "We're going to keep fighting."

Hogan declared that Maryland's long-beleaguered Republican Party, which is greatly outnumbered and has been beset by debt and internal division, "far from being dead, is now stronger than it has ever been in the history of the state of Maryland."

Hogan, as well as national and state party leaders, also warned how precarious their hold on power could become if the party again becomes divided. Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican in Maryland's congressional delegation, used the word "unity" at least a half-dozen times during his remarks.

Hogan's promise to rejuvenate the Republican Party comes during a busy week as the Anne Arundel businessman prepares to take over the state government from Gov. Martin O'Malley.

On Friday, Hogan visited the White House and announced that his running mate would lead efforts to combat crime linked to a heroin epidemic; he planned to tour the governor's mansion with the O'Malleys on Saturday afternoon.

He also met last week with Ken Ulman, the running mate of his election opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, and told reporters Saturday that it was "always a possibility" that he would find a place for Ulman in his administration.

"It's amazing how similar Ken Ulman's views are to mine," Hogan said, complimenting Ulman as a smart public servant with great ideas about economic development and improving the state's business climate.

Republicans now hold five of Maryland's nine county executive seats and a majority of elected local government posts across the state, along with 11 more seats added to their caucus in the General Assembly.

The gains by the party come after years of struggling to find its footing. Harris urged the party, whose conservative and mainstream wings often clash, to keep a long-term perspective.

"We have to remain united in 2018. We have to support Larry," Harris said. "I've been a Republican long enough to know how hard to it is to remain united."

Despite his devotion to strengthening the Republican Party, Hogan has been quick to seize opportunities to work with Democrats.

Hogan spent seven hours at the White House on Friday, including what he described to reporters Saturday as a chummy lunch where Democratic Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly draped an arm around Hogan and slapped his shoulder.

Hogan said he told the White House he would like help funding a plan to more quickly move cargo out of the port of Baltimore, where double-stacked cargo containers can't move through the antiquated Howard Street Tunnel.

The governor-elect also told reporters he planned at least two inauguration parties for January, one at the Baltimore Convention Center and another low-dollar event on the Eastern Shore where the "average people" who elected him could celebrate his victory.

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Hogan was quick to point out that despite the significant gains the party made in November, Democrats still hold a 2-1 registration advantage in the state and super majorities in both chambers of the legislature.

"There were factions always fighting with one another," Hogan said of Republicans. "Now I think we can really bring people together. We have to govern. It's different than just standing on the sidelines, throwing rocks."

The state Republican Party now has $134,000 in the bank and will be able to pay off the debt it carried for years by the end of 2014, party leaders said during a briefing. Next year, the party expects to have a budget of more than $1 million for the first time in nine years, officials said.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus predicted that "Larry Hogan's going to be a legendary governor in Maryland" and encouraged party faithful not to relent. "You've got to keep building what you've started."

The convention is typically marked by rancorous fights for party leadership spots, but this year, Maryland GOP Chairwoman Diana Waterman ran unopposed for re-election.

Standing before a giant red banner that read, "WE'RE BACK!" Waterman smiled at the packed ballroom.

"Winning is so much better," Waterman said. "People who never bothered to return your calls return your calls now. We have friends we've never had before."

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