For the first time since he took office, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan attended the annual conference of local government officials in Ocean City this week, and his arrival ushered in more robust GOP fundraising.
The three-day annual Maryland Association of Counties' summer conference has always been a schmooze fest. But in recent years, Democrats have been the primary beneficiaries of fundraisers that their top elected officials could headline.
Hogan's arrival at the beach-side convention this year — he missed last year while undergoing cancer treatment — brought the fundraising star power for Republicans.
Hogan, elected in 2014, held one event to benefit himself Thursday. The Senate Republican caucus hosted a breakfast Friday morning. The Republicans, a minority in Maryland and in the state legislature, also threw a "bipartisan reception" Thursday night that drew a lot of the state's top Democrats to mingle with their GOP counterparts.
The MACO convention in Ocean City has all the elements for lucrative political fundraising: Most of the state's politicians are gathered in one spot, surrounded by corporate lobbyists with deep interest in government decisions.
"It looks like a pocket-rich environment," said long-time Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who also considers the governor a friend and maintains a public list of fundraisers for clients. "The presence of the governor, whoever that person is, always generates a level of excitement and activity. … Republicans have a great deal to pound their chests about."
Democrats also hold receptions and fundraisers at the convention each year, though this year's events are not as plentiful or well-promoted as those two and three years ago when top politicians were vying to succeed Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Chuck Conner, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said Democrats Sen. Jim Mathias, who represents Ocean City, and Sen. John Astle from Annapolis each had receptions. Conner said so did Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is weighing a bid against Hogan in 2018.
Conner acknowledged it's hard to compete with the draw of a sitting governor.
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings said his party targeted donors in the resort-town area and the Eastern Shore, which tend to support Republicans.
"It was a great way to promote the caucus," he said.