It is not, by now, surprising to see evidence that Gov. Larry Hogan is strikingly popular in Maryland, though the finding of the Sun/University of Baltimore poll that he has higher approval ratings than Sen. Barbara Mikulski, long the gold standard for Maryland politicians, underscores just how remarkable his ascent has been during the last two years. One recent survey even ranked him as the third most popular governor in America, despite his status as a Republican in a Democratic state. (Interestingly, the most popular, according to Morning Consult, is Massachusetts' Republican governor, Charlie Baker.)

Mr. Hogan's excellent standing among voters begs two questions about the future of Maryland politics: Can Democrats find an effective way to counter him, and does he open the door for other Republicans to compete state-wide?

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Maryland's last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., was also quite popular at this point in his term, yet his administration is remembered for its failure to achieve its top priorities, notably the legalization of slot machines, and for clashes with the legislature. Mr. Hogan certainly does not appear clash-averse, but there are some signs that he is managing his conflicts with the Democrats with more political deftness than Mr. Ehrlich did.

For example, he dug in his heels over spending $68 million the legislature had earmarked for education, and Democrats have been trying to pummel him with that issue for months. But unlike Mr. Ehrlich, Governor Hogan sidestepped a veto fight over the issue by allowing a bill that would make that particular category of school funds mandatory in the future. As a matter of policy, it made no sense, but politically, it appears to be working. By the time the next election rolls around, Mr. Hogan's decision not to spend the money this year will probably be a distant memory. Mr. Hogan angered Democrats with his refusal to fund the Red Line in Baltimore city and county, but he sought to deflect the issue by announcing a planned overhaul of the region's bus system. Democrats have fought back, noting — quite correctly — that better bus service should be a baseline expectation and is no substitute for a major regional rail line. But there is no sign that the issue is resonating outside the city.

Mr. Hogan's poll numbers are notably weak in Baltimore City — it is the only region in the state where his net approval rating, that is, the percentage who approve minus the percentage who disapprove, is less than 10 points. But he remains extremely popular in Baltimore County — net approval of 42 points — and strong in Montgomery County (net approval of 23 points) and Prince George's (20 points). A Republican who wins Baltimore County decisively and competes in Montgomery and Prince George's County would be next to impossible to beat.

If there is a silver lining in the Sun/UB poll for Democrats, it is in the differences in voters' responses to the questions of whether they approve of Mr. Hogan's job performance and whether they think he "is looking out for the interests of people like me." He has a 63 percent approval rating, but 53 percent of voters think he's looking out for their interests. That's still quite good, of course, but the drop-off is particularly strong among a few key groups: women (21-point drop), African-Americans (12 points), voters aged 35-49 (12 points) and Prince George's County voters (19 points). By pursuing policies that appeal to those groups — and, ideally, finding a candidate for governor who does as well — Democrats may have a chance against him.

Meanwhile, Republicans are eyeing the contest to replace Senator Mikulski, and some posit that Mr. Hogan's success in 2014 shows that a path exists for the GOP to win state-wide office in Maryland. But the question for them is whether Marylanders voted for Mr. Hogan or for his party, and there is reason to believe it is the former. For starters, the difference between his approval rating and his "looking out for people like me" numbers suggests an element of personal popularity is at work that is not necessarily related to the policies he pursues. For another, the trends in Maryland's electorate point toward a growth in independent voters — to whom Mr. Hogan appealed strongly last year — and not Republicans. Since Mr. Hogan's election, Republican voter registration has grown by a tiny amount — 0.3 percent — and Democratic registration has dipped by about 1.2 percent. But the real movement is toward unaffiliated voters — their numbers have grown by 2.6 percent in that time, and by 57 percent since Mr. Ehrlich's election.

The Sun/UB poll surveyed those who vote in primary elections, so it doesn't tell us anything about that key group. But it does point to the conundrum that GOP primary voters — the group Republicans will have to win over to even have a shot at the independents and persuadable Democrats — hold views that are out of step with the mainstream of the Maryland electorate. They have a net 51 percent unfavorable view of Senator Mikulski. Just 3 percent of them sympathize more with the protesters than the police in post-Freddie Gray Baltimore, and more than half said Baltimore's problems chiefly stem from a lack of personal responsibility by residents. That's far different from the overall results in all cases.

If Republicans are looking for signs of hope, it is not that Maryland is swinging toward Republicans. It is that the Republican primary electorate is willing to support a candidate like Mr. Hogan who didn't pander to the party's base. If Mr. Hogan opened a path for Republicans in statewide races, that's it.

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