After a historic state-level election for Democrats, here’s how the Maryland GOP can rebuild | COMMENTARY

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox finished a distant second in this week's election. Will his loss and those by other statewide GOP candidates leave the party out in the rain after Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's eight years in office? File. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun).

For Maryland Republicans, there is likely little comfort in the thought that the drubbing they took in statewide contests Tuesday was to be expected. From U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s easy reelection win over perennial (yet-still-little-known) candidate Chris Chaffee to Del. Brooke Lierman’s historic victory over Harford County Executive Barry Glassman to become Maryland’s first woman to be elected state comptroller, Maryland voters showed a distinct preference for Democrats in 2022.

While the milestone wins for Wes Moore and U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, the first Black men to be elected governor and state attorney general, respectively, have deservedly captured much of the attention, the big losses by their right-wing Republican opponents, Del. Dan Cox and former Anne Arundel County Councilman Michael Peroutka, are notable as well. They suggest that the Maryland GOP has some serious soul-searching to do.


The obvious take-away should be that Maryland is no red state: Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in voter registration statewide, and Republicans voters surely knew that Trump fared miserably in Maryland in both 2016 and 2020. Now they know his gubernatorial designee can perform just as poorly. As for Peroutka, even his own campaign ads observed that Maryland voters haven’t elected a Republican attorney general in a century, and his odd background as a neo-Confederate activist may have just set back that particular cause an additional 100 years.

But wait, not so fast. There are some silver linings for the Grand Old Party. The GOP retained its 1st District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, with U.S. Rep. Andy Harris winning handily against Heather Mizeur. And at this writing, Republican Neil Parrott is leading incumbent Democrat David Trone in the House race for Western Maryland’s recently redrawn 6th Congressional District.


In the more rural counties, the clout of the Republican Party remains unquestioned with the sole Democrat on the ballot in Carroll County, Zach Hands, coming up short in the District 3 county commissioner race, to mention just one example. Harford’s county executive is a Republican. Anne Arundel voters may return that post to the GOP, as Jessica Haire now leads incumbent Democrat Steuart Pittman with mail-in ballots still to be counted. And while the party produced no big net gain in the state legislature, with Democrats expected to hold a supermajority in both chambers, Republicans may yet add seats as final tallies become available.

The lesson here is simply that in statewide contests, Republicans can’t run far-right candidates and expect success. It’s all very well to oppose taxes or promise to create jobs — but the full Trump approach and its opposition to abortion, election denial, immigrant hysteria and the like? It didn’t work in 2016, 2018 or 2022. It won’t work in the future either.

Still, Maryland Republicans have been here before. Remember 1986? That’s when William Donald Schaefer won his first of two terms with 82% of the vote over Republican former Del. Thomas J. Mooney. Democratic Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein ran unopposed, and so did Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. That year, Republicans did win two of eight seats in Congress (Helen D. Bentley and Constance A. Morella), but neither was a conservative. Yet the GOP eventually rebuilt and found its footing with a surprising near-victory by Ellen Sauerbrey for governor in 1994 followed by an actual win by Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2002. What’s needed now is for the Maryland GOP to find its next leaders among those who — like Sauerbrey, Ehrlich and outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan — have experience and can appeal to independents and Democrats.

Here are some folks we would humbly submit deserve consideration. The list includes two who came up short on Tuesday: Glassman and former Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman who appears to have lost to incumbent Democrat Calvin Ball in a rematch of their 2018 race. Both demonstrated broad appeal.

In Annapolis, Del. Nicholaus R. Kipke of Anne Arundel County; Sen. J.B. Jennings, who represents portions of Baltimore and Harford counties; and Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. of the Upper Eastern Shore are well-regarded within the General Assembly, and all have served in leadership positions within their caucus.

And in local government, reelected Carroll County Commissioner Ed Rothstein; Calvert County’s Earl “Buddy” Hance (a former state agriculture secretary); Sen. Michael Hough, who appears to have won Tuesday’s contested race to become county executive of Frederick County; and Caroline County Commissioner Larry Porter, a former mayor of Denton, have all gotten high marks in political circles.

None are necessarily household names today, of course, but then neither was Larry Hogan, the son of the late former Prince George’s County Executive Lawrence Hogan, before he served in the Ehrlich cabinet. And if someone more directly connected to the current governor is preferable, there’s always one of his former chiefs of staff (Craig Williamson or Matt Clark, perhaps) or maybe even his half brother, former Del. Patrick Hogan who now works for the University System of Maryland. Of course, if Maryland Republican voters prefer Trump disciple to a centrist for statewide posts in 2026, their time in the political wilderness may last considerably longer.

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