Gov. Larry Hogan has more than $9 million in the bank for his re-election effort this year, according to the finance reports filed Wednesday night, giving him a sizable cash advantage over his potential Democratic rivals.
Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford raised a combined $5.4 million over the past 12 months, bringing their total cash on hand to $9.03 million, according to the reports. Individual Democrats in the race were expected to post totals less than one-third that figure when the latest round of campaign finance reports were due at midnight Wednesday.
“For Hogan to be a Republican in a blue state running in an environment that looks like a blue wave, he needs every advantage he can get,” said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
At this time last year, Hogan and Rutherford had a combined $5.1 million in available cash.
Campaign chairman Tom Kelso said Hogan and Rutherford had received money from 17,000 donors, 93 percent of them from Maryland.
Between the cash advantage and Hogan’s high approval ratings, “we could not be in a stronger position entering 2018,” Kelso wrote in the memo to Hogan and Rutherford.
Hogan faces no Republican primary challenger, an additional advantage over the several Democrats who are vying to challenge him. Those Democrats will have to spend money to compete in a crowded primary in June.
When Hogan’s challenger is set, the race is expected to draw national attention. Republicans will want to re-elect one of the nation’s most popular governors. Democrats will want to take advantage of the unpopularity of Republican President Donald Trump in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two to one.
“You can guarantee there will be significant outside money that comes in once the general election starts,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College. “It won’t just be his own war chest, but there most assuredly will be outside money.”
Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Fabion Seaton said the unpopularity of Republican President Donald Trump would harm Hogan.
Hogan did not support Trump in the 2016 election — he wrote in the name of his father, a former congressman — and has worked to maintain distance between himself and the president. Democrats will say he has not distanced himself enough.
“Governor Hogan is going to find that no amount of money will fool voters who know he has not stood with them against an increasingly unpopular president,” Seaton said in an email.
Five of the Democratic candidates for governor said they had raised more than $1 million each.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz had the most cash on hand among the Democrats — a little more than $2 million — after raising $1.06 million over the past 12 months, according to his campaign finance report.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker said he raised $1.05 million and that 73 percent of his contributions came from Maryland. He had $695,000 on hand.
Former NAACP national leader Ben Jealous said he had raised more than $1.5 million from nearly 8,000 donors and had more than $600,000 on hand.
Lawyer Jim Shea said he had raised more than $2 million and had more than $1.3 million in cash on hand. Shea, the former chairman of Venable, the state’s largest law firm, said he had received nearly 1,600 contributions.
Tech entrepreneur Alec Ross said he had raised more than $1 million. Ross had about $440,000 on hand.
Krish Vignarajah, a former policy director for first lady Michelle Obama, said she had $410,000 in the bank after raising $335,000 in donations and giving the campaign a $100,000 personal loan.
State Sen. Richard Madaleno, the only candidate to accept public financing, reported raising $439,000, but his campaign said that tally would increase once matching public funds kick in. He has $193,000 on hand. His campaign finance report included a $120,000 personal loan.
The only Democrat who has filed to run is perennial candidate Ralph Jaffe. He opposes campaign donations, and said he doesn’t plan to spend much money.
A high-money primary battle between Democrats could deplete the party of funds for the general election, Eberly said.
“They’re going to have at least five well-funded, credible candidates who may battle this out all the way up to the primary,” Eberly said. “That’s going to suck up a lot of Democratic donor money away from the general election.
“Think about the people who are small donors. If they decide they're going to burn that in the primary, once the nomination is settled they may not be able to afford to donate twice.”
Fundraising and available cash are seen as measures of the seriousness of a campaign because candidates need money to get their messages out. But having more money is not a guarantee of victory: Democrat Anthony Brown outspent Hogan significantly in 2014 and still lost.
Demonstrating the ability to raise money is one indicator of a candidate’s viability, Kromer said.
“In this political reality, it certainly is about your quality of candidate, but it’s also about your ability to wage a statewide campaign,” she said.
Fundraising pays for staffers, mailers, advertising and polling.
The deadline to file to run is Feb. 27. The primary election is June 26 and the general election is Nov. 6.
A recent poll showed Baker leading the wide-open Democratic primary race for governor, but trailing in a head-to-head matchup with Hogan.
Twenty-four percent of respondents to the survey conducted by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies from Dec. 27 through Jan. 5 said they would vote for Baker if the primary were held that day. He was followed by Kamenetz and Jealous at 14 percent each.
Public policy consultant Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who has dropped out of the race, came in fourth with 6 percent.
About 33 percent of likely voters in the Democratic primary said they were undecided.