Even among Maryland’s Democratic loyalists, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan remains popular.
Sixty percent of Democrats who say they’re likely to vote in their party‘s primary this month approve of the job Hogan is doing, according to a new poll for The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore.
At the same time, nearly half of likely Democratic voters say they aren’t better off than they were four years ago. They just don’t seem to blame Hogan, said Steve Raabe, president of the Annapolis-based OpinionWorks, which conducted the poll.
“What’s going on here with Governor Hogan and Democrats is probably something other than public policy,” Raabe said. “Perhaps there’s a likability factor or a sense of character about him. …
“He has managed to reach across the partisan divide and become a personal commodity to Democratic voters. And that’s going to make him very formidable in the fall.”
Nearly a fourth of likely voters in the Democratic primary plan to vote for Hogan in the November general election, the poll found. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 in voter registration — and where Republican President Donald J. Trump is deeply unpopular — Hogan has managed to persuade many in the state’s majority to consider crossing party lines for him.
Raabe said the poll shows that the “blue wave” many analysts predict across the country in opposition to Trump might look more like a ripple in Maryland.
While the state’s Democrats “might be very partisan up against national Republicans, they are not at all partisan up against Larry Hogan,” Raabe said. “There’s an extent to which he may have insulated himself from the maladies that might be affecting national Republicans.”
The poll of 500 likely Maryland Democratic primary voters was conducted May 29 to June 6 by telephone, both land line and cellular. It has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
Democrats show affection for Hogan despite the fact they don’t necessarily find his policies effective. The poll found only 40 percent believe he has “changed Maryland for the better,” the governor’s oft-repeated slogan. Democratic strategists attribute the disconnect to Hogan’s skillful use of his incumbency and the fact that a fractured field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates hasn’t gotten much attention from voters.
“Hogan’s had no competition. That will all change," said John T. Willis, a Democratic strategist and executive in residence at the University of Baltimore. “The Hogan record will come closer into focus.”
Right now, the nine Democrats on the June 26 primary ballot “don’t have the microphone,” said Maryland Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews. They have already promised they will unite behind the winner and appear together outside the governor’s mansion the day after the primary, she said. And she said they will spend the rest of the summer telling Democrats why a vote for Hogan is not in their best interest.
“It’ll be a fair fight at that point,” Matthews said.
Given Democrats’ dominance in Maryland, Hogan needs a coalition of Republicans, a sizable portion of Democrats and many unaffiliated voters to win in November.
In Frederick County, Democrat Wayne Bradshaw, 57, of Emmitsburg, said he’s likely going to vote this month for NAACP President Ben Jealous — a Democratic front-runner and one of the most progressive candidates in the field — but he “strongly approves” of Hogan’s performance and intends to vote for him in the fall.
“I like what Hogan’s done,” he said. “Other governors have ignored parts of the state. It seems like he’s everywhere. I like the fact he lowered the tolls and I like the fact he hasn’t raised taxes.”
Other Democrats simply like Hogan’s personality. The governor’s embrace of some Democratic programs and arm’s-length distance from Trump is a reason enough to give him a second term.
Charles Gray, 51, of Fort Washington, said he plans to vote in the primary for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III — another front-runner and an establishment pick. But when the fall comes, he said, he’s voting for Hogan.
Gray said he likes the way Hogan refused to support Trump during the 2016 election. And he likes the way the governor has embraced some Democratic proposals, such as signing a bill that gives extra grants to students to make community college free.
Gray said he met Hogan — who regularly stands outside sports stadiums to have a beer with fans — at a bar once and likes him personally.
“I like his style. He’s done well for Maryland. I’d rather vote for someone who is tested.”
Hogan’s independent streak appeals to Diana Johnson, 48, of East Baltimore. Johnson said she thinks Hogan is carrying on the tradition of moderate Republicans, such as Gov. Theodore McKeldin, and Hogan's father, a GOP congressman who called for the impeachment of Republican President Richard M. Nixon. She likes that his wife, Yumi Hogan, is Korean-American.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Johnson said of Hogan. “I think he cares about the city. He’s married to a minority. And I don’t believe for a second that he’s aligned with Donald Trump.”
Despite Hogan’s crossover appeal, the majority of Democrats do not plan to vote for him in November, and many find the idea of supporting him mystifying.
Michael Kanick, 37, of Silver Spring, said he’s backing Baker in the primary and will support whichever Democrat wins in the general. He views Hogan as a governor with few accomplishments from his first term, and thinks his meddling with the school calendar favored businesses over students. Hogan issued an executive order requiring that schools begin after Labor Day.
“I can’t tell you anything he’s done other than change the school schedule,” Kanick said. “He chose a certain sector of businesses, those on the Eastern Shore, over what was good for children.”
Barrie Friedland, a Jealous supporter from Canton, thinks Hogan couldn’t care less about Baltimore. She says every time the governor has a chance to help the city, he does the opposite.
“I think he’s horrible,” she said of Hogan. “I live in Baltimore City and I’d like to tell him we’re part of the state, too. He has gone out of his way to take education money from us. He took the Red Line from us. He just hates us. He walks the line between being Republican and being awful.”
Tonia Walker, 63, of East Baltimore — who is supporting state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. of Montgomery County — said she doesn’t think Hogan has done a bad job in office. But she doesn’t think he’s been assertive enough about fighting crime in the city.
She said she’s worried about the safety of her grandchildren and is ready to support the winner of the Democratic primary.
“It seems like more could have been done to help the people," she said. “Maybe it’s time to give somebody else a chance to make a difference.”
The race for Baltimore County executive