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Could Maryland elect a Republican senator? Not under the party’s current standards. | COMMENTARY

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, left, stands with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., as President Joe Biden visits the Port of Baltimore, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, left, stands with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., as President Joe Biden visits the Port of Baltimore, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Susan Walsh/AP)

Whoever seeks to write the definitive account of Larry Hogan’s political career (and the governor’s own book, “Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic and the Toxic Politics That Divide America,” is not it), faces quite a challenge. How a Republican parlayed the legacy of his namesake father, a former Prince George’s County executive and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a stint in Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr.’s cabinet, and support of his own anti-tax grassroots organization Change Maryland into two elected terms as chief executive in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a greater than two-to-one margin remains one of the most remarkable achievements in modern Maryland politics. That polls show he remains popular with state voters despite all the travails of the last seven years makes it all the more so.

Given that success, it’s small wonder that the term-limited Mr. Hogan, who has expressed an interest in running for president in 2024, is often mentioned by others as a potential candidate to square off against Chris Van Hollen for his seat in the U.S. Senate.

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There’s only one problem with that choice: It’s doomed to fail and Governor Hogan knows it.

First, please don’t construe this as a call for Mr. Hogan to abstain from the Senate race. Better for candidates to try and fail than never to try at all. Or the more, the merrier, as the 16th century Tudors used to say. Voters deserve to have qualified candidates running for top offices, and a two-term governor surely fits that bill as well as anyone. Nor are we of the school that only Democrats need apply for the U.S. Senate having not only endorsed Mr. Hogan for statewide office but having endorsed Charles “Mac” Mathis, the last Maryland Republican to hold a U.S. Senate seat.

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Yet, here’s what should be obvious to even the most casual observer of Maryland politics. First, the call for Mr. Hogan to run is not coming from within Maryland, it’s coming from inside the Capital Beltway. Why? Because top Republican Party officials know he’s their best chance at defeating Mr. Van Hollen. The last Republican to run against Barbara Mikulski’s successor, Del. Kathy Szeliga, lost by a landslide of nearly 700,000 votes six years ago. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin’s last opponent fared even worse two years later. Indeed, getting pulverized by Democratic candidates in Senate races is a sad little club to which such unlikely souls as former U.S. Army chaplain Tony Campbell and former U.S. Secret Service agent (and current Fox News talking head) Dan Bongino belong.

That doesn’t make Mr. Hogan’s chances of defeating the incumbent good, but, rather, better than probably anyone else. And if his candidacy only results in Mr. Van Hollen having to work hard to get reelected and the Democrats diverting money to his campaign? Well, that’s helpful to the GOP cause in states more likely to swing their way. But who wants to put “political fall guy” as the latest entry on their resume at the age of 66? This is likely a major reason Mr. Hogan has so often dismissed the possibility of a Senate run when asked about it by reporters. As he told an interviewer on CNN just weeks ago: “It’s not something that I’m really taking a serious look at.” Yet the rumors persist. Why? Because even the possibility of him running (the filing deadline is not until late February) is part of the political chess game being fought over control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Here is the biggest reason why Mr. Hogan can’t win: his brand is as the independent, pro-business, no-nonsense skeptic of both Donald Trump and liberal Democrats. That plays well when voters see him as a check-and-balance to the Democratic majority in Annapolis or, on the national stage, as an outsider crying for reason from his own party. Saying “no” is what makes him appealing. Saying “yes” does not. If he joined the Senate, Maryland voters know he would tip the balance of the Senate toward Mitch McConnell and the GOP’s whole Trump-loyal crew. Even the late Mac Mathias might have trouble winning today given the “R” after his name. Maryland voters understand the stakes here. The federal government is our local industry.

What we suspect Mr. Hogan would like most of all is to remain relevant in the national conversation, to help shape the future of his country. There’s surely nothing wrong with that. Continuing to lead a political organization like No Labels, which seeks to encourage bipartisanship, would seem a more appropriate calling. Even running for president or vice president makes more sense. Alas, until the Republican Party gets its act back together on the national level, the chances of any Republican from Maryland capturing a Senate seat would seem somewhere between slim and none no matter the candidate’s past polling numbers. That’s not just unfortunate for Mr. Hogan’s political career, such dysfunction at so high a policymaking level is unfortunate for us all.

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Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.

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