Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Saturday that he will not challenge President Donald Trump in next year’s Republican primary.
Hogan, a popular GOP governor in his second term governing a blue state, said that instead of running, he would start a national nonprofit advocacy organization called “An America United.”
“I truly appreciate all of the encouragement I received from people around the nation urging me to consider making a run for president in 2020,” Hogan said in a statement. “However, I will not be a candidate. Instead, I am dedicated to serving my second term as Maryland governor and in my new role leading America’s governors as the incoming chairman of the National Governors Association.”
Hogan, 63, considered a run against Trump for months, but took few concrete steps to begin a campaign.
In April, he traveled to New Hampshire to speak to an influential crowd of about 100 business and political leaders at the “Politics & Eggs” speaker series — regarded as a “must” stop for presidential hopefuls — at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics. The state is home to the first U.S. presidential primary, scheduled for Feb. 11.
There, he said he planned to travel to 16 states and gauge the feelings of voters toward a possible presidential run. Hogan even openly discussed a potential strategy — attracting the votes of Democrats and independents in states where Republicans hold primaries open to anyone, regardless of party affiliation — and said he thought a short campaign beginning as late as November could be successful.
“People have asked me to give this some serious thought, and I think I owe it to them to give it serious consideration,” Hogan had said of challenging Trump.
Maryland Republican Party chairman Dirk Haire said Saturday that he looked forward to hearing more from Hogan even though he isn’t running for president.
“Governor Hogan is doing a terrific job in Maryland, and he is an outstanding Republican leader,” Haire said after the announcement. “I am excited for his political future in Maryland and in the Republican Party at the national level.”
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation, said Hogan made the right call.
“President Trump will need a second term to drain the swamp and restore America’s greatness,” the Baltimore County lawmaker said. “Governor Hogan is doing a great job in Maryland, and I’m glad he has decided not to run for president at this time.”
Former U.S. Rep. John Delaney, a Maryland Democrat running for president, issued a statement through Michel Starr Hopkins, his national press secretary: “It’s disappointing that after teasing a run for the last year, Gov Hogan isn’t going to challenge the President. America needs more Republicans to stand up for decency and for our Democracy, not less.”
In April, special counsel Robert Mueller released a long-awaited report of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The report said investigators did not establish that Trump’s 2016 campaign conspired with the Russians, but did not say whether Trump obstructed justice.
“Unless something big happens to dethrone Trump in the GOP, Hogan would have been embarrassed by his vote total,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “In politics as in the rest of life, it’s always better to avoid embarrassment.”
Polling has shown little appetite among the Republican base for a primary challenge to Trump.
A recent Granite State Poll of New Hampshire voters showed about 63% of respondents surveyed said they would vote for Trump in the state’s primary, while just 1% said they would vote for Hogan.
The idea of “somebody of the same party challenging a sitting president” is so unusual as to be “abnormal,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College.
Republican William Weld, 73, the former Massachusetts governor, has announced a primary challenge to Trump.
“Weld is on the back part of his career,” Kromer said. “He is older than Hogan, and there is no other elected office in front of him. Weld can almost run on principle. For Hogan, there is a whole other term.”
Even in Maryland where Hogan is highly popular, a Gonzales Research & Media Services poll found in May that he would win just 24% of the vote in the state’s GOP primary, while Trump would capture 68% of Republican votes.
Hogan said he would focus his future efforts on reshaping the Republican Party after Trump leaves office.
“I also want to play a major national role in the years ahead, both within my own party and in the path our country takes,” Hogan said. “We can reject the extremes of both political parties, work to break partisan gridlock and bring people together to advance bold solutions for all Americans.”
The governor said An America United would support “bipartisan, common-sense solutions to create more and better jobs,” promote “fiscal responsibility, environmental protection,” improve education and rebuild “America’s decaying and neglected infrastructure.”
The Republican National Committee said in a statement after Hogan’s announcement that Trump “enjoys unprecedented support among Republicans and just yesterday hit his highest approval yet. He has already delivered a long list of incredible accomplishments for conservatives and the country. The RNC and the Republican Party are firmly behind the president.”
Hogan may have benefited from his flirtation with running, said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
“He knows as well as anybody that unseating an incumbent for a party nomination is virtually impossible, but politically it got him more national exposure,” Eberly said.
“I still think he’s got his eye on a [U.S.] Senate race, and this helps people outside the state of Maryland say, ‘Who is this guy?’ That helps him when he reaches out to raise funds,” Eberly said.
But Hogan did well to not extend his interest in the presidency, Eberly said. He said the base of the party would not have appreciated Hogan undermining Trump for an extended period as the 2020 race heated up.
“It’s smart to flirt, but it had to be early,” Eberly said.