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The 'Trump effect' is helping, not hurting, Gov. Hogan

Speculation began as soon as the polls closed in 2016 that Donald Trump’s deep unpopularity among Democrats and independents would make Larry Hogan a one-term governor.

The “Trump effect” was supposed to diminish Mr. Hogan's re-election chances due to their shared party affiliation. Public polling since Mr. Trump’s election, including our mid-September Goucher Poll, suggests that this particular political prediction has not come to fruition.

Yet, a “Trump effect” does exist. It’s just not what was expected. Instead of Governor Hogan’s being considered guilty by partisan affiliation, he’s looked at as moderate by comparison. These seemingly endless opportunities for Governor Hogan to contrast himself against President Trump have worked to strengthen his reputation as a moderate.

For example, when President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, Governor Hogan cautioned that “instead of targeting innocent kids, we should be targeting criminals.”

While Mr. Trump chastised Republicans in Congress for their failure to repeal Obamacare, Mr. Hogan said “we need common sense, bipartisan solutions that will stabilize markets and actually expand affordable coverage.”

In response to the tragic events in Charlottesville, Mr. Trump found “blame on both sides” and Mr. Hogan condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence” and, through the Maryland Historical Trust, removed the Justice Roger Taney statue from the State House grounds.

The perception of moderate politics is often as much about an approach to governance as it is policy; thus, it is also about steadfastness rather than impulsiveness — or even careful public messaging versus “tweet storms.” It’s even deploying Maryland’s National Guard to assist in hurricane relief efforts versus commenting about the “poor leadership ability” of the mayor of San Juan. The list goes on.

Our recent Goucher Poll asked voters how they viewed the political ideology of Governor Hogan. A majority of voters viewed the Republican governor as a moderate, while about a third say he is a conservative, and less than 10 percent say he is a liberal. This perception of moderation is strongly tied to Mr. Hogan’s re-election chances.

Overall about half of Maryland voters are at least leaning toward giving the governor a second term. Among voters who view Mr. Hogan as a moderate, his re-election rate ticks up to above 60 percent — an advantageous place to be for any incumbent. In comparison, his re-election rate among those who view him as a conservative drops to an electorally perilous 40 percent.

To be sure, middle-of-the-road politics aren’t easy politics. Moderate incumbents can be accused of not having enough big accomplishments when they’ve chosen incrementalism over broad change. Absent the flashy, partisan-base pleasing that satisfies the more extreme wings of either party, moderation creates opportunities to make enemies on both sides. And some voters will undoubtedly view the rejection of ideological purity as complicity with the opposition’s agenda.

In fact, there has been speculation that Maryland Republicans might stay home rather than vote for an alleged “RINO.” However, there is currently little evidence that the public distancing from President Trump that bolsters his moderate credentials has widespread implications for Mr. Hogan’s electoral base.

Governor Hogan’s re-election rate is currently above 80 percent among Maryland Republicans. More telling is that 80 percent of those who approve of the job Mr. Trump is doing as president say they are going to vote to re-elect Mr. Hogan. And while 28 percent of Republicans thought that Mr. Hogan has distanced himself “too much” from Mr. Trump, twice as many others said he has distanced himself “about the right amount” or “too little.”

Governor Hogan even maintains a strong re-election rate among those who disagreed with the removal of Confederate monuments and symbols — the issue that gave Mr. Hogan a noticeable social media backlash from his base. Still, the most “Trumpian” contingent of the electorate is likely upset with the governor. Whether they are angry enough to stay home on Election Day, when faced with the reality of a (potentially progressive) Democrat being elected, remains to be seen.

To date, Mr. Hogan has effectively navigated the politics of the Trump presidency. And, most certainly, Trump-driven issues — for example the recent executive order eliminating subsidies for the Affordable Care Act — will continue to present themselves over the next year and test Mr. Hogan’s leadership. However, it’s ultimately his own public policies and not President Trump that will determine if Governor Hogan is the moderate the majority of Maryland voters currently believe him to be.

Mileah Kromer is the director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, which conducts the Goucher Poll. She is also an associate professor of political science. Her email is mileah.kromer@goucher.edu; Twitter: @mileahkromer.

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