Maryland’s GOP celebrated in November as Gov. Larry Hogan won re-election — just the second time in state history a Republican governor was elected to another term.
But the party had trouble in down-ballot races, losing re-election campaigns by Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, a moderate Republican seen by many as best positioned for a gubernatorial run after Hogan’s term ends; and Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh, seen as another possible successor to Hogan.
The election results mean that in 2019 Democrats will hold the top job in seven of Maryland’s eight largest jurisdictions, seven of eight congressional seats, and super-majorities in both the state Senate and the House of Delegates. Both U.S. senators, the Maryland attorney general and state comptroller are all Democrats, too.
In the wake of Hogan’s victory, the Maryland Republican Party re-elected as chairman Dirk Haire, an Anne Arundel resident and partner at the law firm Fox Rothschild. He was unopposed.
The Baltimore Sun interviewed Haire last week at the paper’s Port Covington headquarters. These questions and answers have been edited for space and clarity.
Q: In your view, what is the current state of the Republican Party in Maryland?
A: I think it’s terrific. Obviously, we re-elected a Republican governor for the first time since the 1950s and only the second time in history. We were obviously hoping to pick up more seats in the state Senate, but Maryland is the only state in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic where the Republican Party both won the governor’s race and also picked up seats in one house of the legislature. (The GOP gained one seat in the Maryland Senate.)
Q: But there were some notable losses, too. There’s been some talk that the Republican bench was wiped out.
A: I kind of chuckle. I read a comment from some Democrat who said we were wiped out for a generation. I was a little perplexed at that. Allan Kittleman and Steve Schuh are terrific guys. I’m very disappointed they lost. But those two and Governor Hogan are all around 60 years old. We didn’t lose a generation. We lost, sadly, a couple of middle-aged white guys. What we did do ... if you look just the county elections, 42 Republican women won county races.
Q: Which county-level seats are you referring to?
A: County councils, orphans court, state’s attorney, a couple of treasurers.
Q: During his campaign for re-election, the governor tried to distance himself from President Donald Trump, who polls very poorly in Maryland. Do you think Republicans in Maryland have a separate brand from the party nationally?
A: Each state is different. One of my chief frustrations is politicians of both parties have a real problem staying in their lane. How we’re going to operate as the Republican Party in Maryland is going to be somewhat different than the Republican Party in Wyoming. But we’re all the Republican Party. We’re here to support Republicans.
Q: Do you think President Trump has been good or bad for Republicans here in Maryland?
A: I think it depends on where you are in Maryland. [Eastern Shore Republican] Mary Beth Carozza won her state Senate seat probably due to Trump. [State Del.] Paul Corderman in Hagerstown, same story.
Q: To what do you attribute Hogan’s success in blue Maryland?
A: He ran a very effective campaign. The Democrats like to pooh-pooh his cut in tolls on the Bay Bridge. But the Republican Party and Governor Hogan were savvy to what matters to voters: things that effect them every day. … We need to do more of that. I want to see more of our candidates focused on those types of issues: traffic for example. If we can put forth initiatives to improve the commute, and get parents home faster from work to get their kids to basketball or soccer or dance recitals, I think we will be rewarded for that.
Q: What do you think is the main difference between Maryland’s Republican and Democratic parties?
A: A million voters.
Q: They certainly have a million more than you. How do you win voters over?
A: We need to modernize the Republican brand. First, we need to recruit more diverse candidates. We need more women candidates. The data tells me we probably would do better if we had more women candidates. The second thing we need to do is refine a more modern communications approach and message. ... This is more important for Republicans in Maryland because we’re at a disadvantage. People need to be able to relate to Republicans and not stereotype Republicans. I think incrementally we’ll continue to make progress on that front.
Q: Under new leadership, Maryland’s Democratic Party is developing a state-level party platform. Is that something Republicans will be doing?
Q: Why not have a platform?
A: Platforms are antiquated. They simply serve to provide opportunities for complaining and frustration. I don’t see it as helpful for winning races. What a Republican candidate needs to do in Howard County to win is very different than what a Republican candidate needs to do in Worcester County to win. I don’t see any productive role the Republican Party can play in dictating to our candidates what issues they need to pursue in their local districts.
Q: In response to a recent federal court ruling, Maryland’s congressional map could have to be redrawn because of unconstitutional gerrymandering that favors Democrats. How would a new map change Maryland politics?
A: A geographically respectful and fair map would clearly favor Republicans [more than the current map]. The state is not a 17 percent Republican state. It’s a much closer disparity. … We’ve won three of the last six governor’s races. A map that’s more reflective of geography would naturally lead to more Republicans being elected. … If they had not done what they did to [Former U.S. Rep.] Roscoe Bartlett’s district, there would currently be two Republicans in the House of Representatives.