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Hogan to speak at fundraiser for conservative Pa. candidate

Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland is shown in this file photo.
Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland is shown in this file photo.

Gov. Larry Hogan is scheduled to be the headline speaker at a fundraiser Thursday for a conservative candidate for Pennsylvania governor whose populist style has been compared to that of President Donald J. Trump.

Hogan plans to speak at an event in York, Pa., on behalf of Scott Wagner, a state senator from York County who is one of two announced candidates vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. More Republican candidates are expected to enter the race before the primary next spring.

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Hogan's appearance could play into one of Maryland Democrats' attack lines against him — that the real Larry Hogan is far to the right of the moderate positions he's adopted as governor.

It also raises questions about why he would wade into a neighboring state's intra-party battle at a time when he is seeking re-election. Polls show Hogan's approval ratings are sky-high, but Democrats hope to bring those down by tying Hogan to Trump.

They were quick to pounce on news of Hogan's plans.

"Governor Larry Hogan is headed to an exclusive fundraiser to stump for a Republican who wants to gut the Affordable Care Act, opposes a woman's right to choose, and denies climate change," said party Chair Kathleen Matthews. "Like a typical politician, Governor Hogan claims to be a moderate but he secretly supports his ultra-conservative friends who have nothing in common with Maryland values."

Andrew Brightwell, a spokesman for the Hogan campaign, said the governor and Wagner are personal friends.

"Senator Wagner supported the Governor's campaign," Brightwell said. "This is simply returning the favor."

Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said she finds it surprising that Hogan would align himself with a "Trump-like" candidate. She said it gives state Democrats something to use against him.

"To me it seems out of character for such a cautious politician," Kromer said. "What Hogan needs to do is rebuild that Hogan coalition and run as an affable moderate."

Wagner has staked out a conservative set of policies that include climate change skepticism, enthusiastic support for fracking, and opposition to Obamacare and abortion rights.

"On virtually every issue, he's pretty consistently conservative," said Stephen Medvic, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. "He's going to position himself very much as a Trump-style [candidate]."

Hogan has boasted of his support for measures to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists believe are the driving force behind climate change. He signed one of the strongest fracking bans in the United States. And he recently joined a bipartisan group of governors, including Wolf, in urging members of Congress not to repeal the Affordable Care Act and instead to find ways to fix the health insurance system.

While Hogan has not been an ally of teachers' unions, he has avoided direct confrontations with them and has touted his full funding of the state's education formulas. Wagner has promised an all-out attempt to break the power of public sector unions much as Gov. Scott Walker did in Wisconsin.

Hogan refused to support Trump in last November's election, Wagner was an enthusiastic Trump supporter and has bragged about his similarities with the president.

There are also differences in personal demeanor. While Hogan is a tough opponent, he has confined his political brawling to verbal attacks. Wagner got into a physical altercation last month with a "tracker" from a liberal-leaning political group as he tried to grab the man's video camera. The tracker called it assault. Wagner accused the tracker of trespassing. A prosecutor declined to bring a case against either.

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There are similarities between the two men. Both have cultivated a guy-next-door image and have pledged to reverse the policies of Democratic governors. Wagner's slogan of "It's Time to Fix PA" is reminiscent of Hogan's "Change Maryland for the Better."

Like Hogan and Trump, Wagner comes out of the business world. But where Hogan and Trump built businesses in real estate, Wagner made his fortune as a trash hauler.

Where Hogan has worked to unite the various factions of the Maryland Republican Party, Wagner has been more of a disruptive force. Elected state senator as a write-in candidate in 2014, he quickly moved against the GOP leadership and led an effort to depose Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, who was seen as a relative moderate.

Wagner has said he intends to finance his campaign with "small, grassroots donors," but the Hogan event appears to be a big-ticket events. Tickets start at $100 and go up to $25,000.

For Hogan, his appearance at the event could be reassuring to some Trump-supporting Maryland Republicans who have been dismayed by the governor's distance from the president.

Kromer, however, sees no need for Hogan to shore up his base when he is one of the most popular governors in the country and Trump's approval in Maryland is hovering around 30 percent.

"In general, it's a safe bet that Maryland Republicans like the governor more than the president," she said.

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