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As Maryland Gov. Hogan heads to New Hampshire amid 2020 buzz, new poll shows Trump's strength

As Maryland Gov. Hogan heads to New Hampshire amid 2020 buzz, new poll shows Trump's strength
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks during the National Governors Association winter meeting on Feb. 23, 2019, in Washington. (Jose Luis Magana / AP)

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Kamala Harris. Julian Castro. John Delaney. Eric Swalwell. Bill Weld.

So far this year, five presidential candidates have traveled to New Hampshire to speak at a “Politics and Eggs” series at a local college — an event considered a “must” stop for presidential candidates.

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Could Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan be No. 6?

Hogan will speak Tuesday morning at the latest installment of the forum at St. Anselm College, at the invitation of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. His appearance could refuel speculation that he has political ambitions beyond the state of Maryland.

Hogan, a popular two-term Republican governor of a blue state, has said he’s open to considering a run against Republican President Donald Trump, but has taken no concrete steps to launch a campaign.

Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said he plans to highlight in his speech a need for civility and bipartisanship.

"Governor Hogan is in New Hampshire to talk about how we can overcome our broken politics by working together to get things done, and how Maryland has set an example for the rest of the country,” Ricci said.

Tom Rath, a former attorney general of New Hampshire whose law firm is a sponsor of the event, said there’s no secret why Hogan is coming to the state — he’s eyeing a presidential run.

“There’s only one reason to come up here at this point,” Rath said. “This is our brand. This is what we do. You don’t come up here just to see how the Sox are doing.”

Some anti-Trump Republicans had hoped an investigation into connections between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian operatives that ended last month would lead to the president’s downfall or political weakening — opening a lane for a challenge from the so-called “center right.”

But with the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller resulting in no criminal charges against anyone in the White House, a new poll indicates the investigation’s results haven’t created that path, said Andrew E. Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which released its results Monday.

The Granite State Poll of New Hampshire voters showed Trump continues to exhibit strength among 208 likely Republican primary voters — and Hogan is largely unknown there. About 63% of respondents surveyed said they would vote for Trump in the Feb. 11 primary. Just 1% said they would vote for Hogan.

That put Maryland’s governor behind Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich as potential Republican primary challengers to the president, the poll found.

The poll surveyed voters between April 10-18, calling landline and cell phone numbers. The margin of error for the findings regarding likely GOP primary voters was 6.8 percentage points.

“The news is not so good for Governor Hogan,” Smith said. “As in most elections, the party backs their president. After the release of the Mueller report and the lack of charges, a lot of Republicans are saying, ‘OK, let’s go with what we got.’”

Rath acknowledged Hogan has low name recognition in the state and Trump is polling well, but he said that can change. He pointed out that in New Hampshire, independents can vote in the Republican primary.

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“There are people like myself who would be open to an alternative,” he said. “Hogan is a Republican who has done well as a Republican in a state where it is not easy to do well as a Republican.”

The trip north could benefit Hogan, Smith said. He noted Democratic Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, performed well during a recent visit and generated a lot of buzz, and that helped boost his poll numbers. Buttigieg jumped from 0% to 15% support in New Hampshire in the most recent poll.

“The big issue Hogan faces is nobody knows who he is outside of Maryland,” Smith said. “’Politics and Eggs’ is an important event to go to. It’s basically a chamber of commerce for all of New England and pretty much every candidate for president has attended one of these events.”

Hogan’s visit will generate media coverage in the region, and a strong performance can put him on the radar screen of those who haven’t heard of him.

“It will be front page of the newspaper. It will be on TV. He will get some name recognition,” Smith said. “If he does a really good job at this and wows the people there, you could see what happened with Pete Buttigieg. All of the reporters left his event and said, ‘This is something different and special.’ Now, he’s No. 3 in the polls.”

Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, is among a group of Republicans trying to recruit a candidate to run against Trump.

“I’m excited about it,” he said of Hogan’s speech. “I’m going to drive an hour to hear him speak. The fact that he’s a sitting elected official is a big deal. I salute his willingness to step forward.”

Cullen said he recently hosted a fundraiser for Weld but would be glad to back Hogan.

“With all due respect to Governor Weld, it’s easier for someone to challenge an incumbent president at the end of their political career,” Cullen said. “Any Republican who is willing to stand up and say publicly what a lot of us say privately deserves gratitude and support.”

Weld, 73, last held elected office in 1997.

Cullen also said he thought Hogan’s appearance in New Hampshire showed he was seriously considering a run.

“Somebody like him doesn’t end up in New Hampshire giving a speech nine months before a presidential [primary] election by accident,” he said.

Like Rath, Cullen wasn’t impressed by Trump’s poll numbers and said those can change quickly.

“The polls suggest people are open to an alternative. All of his support tends to be a mile wide and a centimeter deep,” he said. “Once it starts to unravel, it all goes away.”

The Politics & Eggs series was founded in 1995 to provide New England business leaders with a chance to meet with major party presidential candidates, according to its website. Speakers sign wooden eggs as souvenirs for attendees.

“Since that time, virtually every major candidate has attended this program, and it has become a ‘must-stop’ on the presidential campaign trail,” the website says. “In recent years, the series has been expanded to include speakers other than candidates who discuss critical issues facing our nation.”

For months, some so-called “Never TrumpRepublicans have urged Hogan to run in a 2020 primary challenge against Trump. The governor has largely demurred, without closing the door to the possibility.

Last month, after traveling to Iowa and sparking more speculation about whether he would challenge Trump, Hogan returned to Maryland and said he was no closer to making a decision.

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Hogan, 62, is vice chairman of the National Governors Association. He said he was in Des Moines to support Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s “Good Jobs for All Americans” initiative, which focuses on rural communities and mid-career workers. Bullock, a Democrat, is chairman of the governors’ organization.

“I’m not any closer or further away,” Hogan said of pursuing higher office. “It’s not really on my radar screen.”

While Smith said he doesn’t see a successful presidential run for Hogan in the cards this election, the governor could be looking beyond 2020 to 2024.

“He’s still relatively young,” Smith said. “He may be seriously running for president, but a more realistic goal would be to help reframe the party after Trump.”

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