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Far from Republican convention in Cleveland, Hogan enjoys good will at Tawes crab feast

Governor Larry Hogan visits the Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

CRISFIELD — Some 500 miles from the hall where Republicans were calling for Democrat Hillary Clinton to be thrown in jail, Gov. Larry Hogan was basking Wednesday in bipartisan good will by the Chesapeake Bay.

The popular Republican shook hands, posed for pictures, greeted old friends, drank beer and generally seemed to be having a superb time at the 40th annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in this Eastern Shore town.

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Greeting Prince George's County Del. Angela Angel, a Democrat, Hogan gave her a hug and complimented her on her colorful new hairstyle.

If Hogan was missing the slightest thing about the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, he was concealing it well.

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He recalled that he missed the first Tawes crab feast of his term as governor because he was being treated for cancer — the first time in years he had missed Maryland's premier annual summertime political schmooze-fest.

"It's better than sitting in the hospital," he said.

Hogan chose not to go to Cleveland, where Donald J. Trump is set Thursday to accept the GOP nomination for president. The governor has said he will not vote for Trump or Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Hogan managed to chat with hundreds of voters before Richard Reynolds of Princess Anne bluntly demanded: "Why aren't you supporting Trump?"

"I don't like him," Hogan said and then disappeared into the mammoth private tent operated by lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano.

Earlier, Larry Pugh of Taylors Island tried to get a rise out of the governor by holding a Trump sign behind him and chanting the candidate's name.

Reynolds and Pugh said they like the governor even though they disagree with him about Trump.

The Trump campaign was highly visible at Tawes, but there was no sign of Clinton's. The Somerset County Republican Party was distributing Trump signs at its tent, but whether by accident or design, the governor steered clear of that location as he made his way to Bereano's tent, which was liberally decorated with Hogan-for-governor signs.

One of the first people to greet Hogan as he entered the festival site was Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat who has become a close ally.

"It's so great to have you here. We missed you last year," Franchot told the governor.

The comptroller deplored the spectacle in Cleveland while praising the atmosphere at Tawes.

Trump, he said, "is just a complete stigma on the body politic." He called the GOP convention a "rush down into the sewer."

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"This event is the opposite," Franchot said. He said this year's charity feast was particularly well attended and guessed that Hogan's presence was one of the reasons.

Adding to the political excitement this year was the hotly contested race for the U.S. Senate between Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Republican state Del. Kathy Szeliga. Both attended and brought sizable contingents of T-shirted supporters. Szeliga had the edge on signs in this GOP-dominated corner of Maryland.

Szeliga supports Trump, but she expressed no more angst than Hogan over missing the real estate mogul's party.

"For me, it was easy. It had nothing to do with the convention and everything to do with my campaign," she said. "I haven't missed a Tawes crab feadt in years. It's Americana at its best."

Szeliga, the House minority leader, said she was not concerned that Trump could drag her down in heavily Democratic Maryland. She pointed out that Democrats had failed to nominate a woman to succeed Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

"I don't see a Trump-Van Hollen vote. ... I do see a Hillary-Szeliga vote," she said.

Van Hollen, meanwhile, was scoffing at Szeliga's claim of being a nonpolitician running as a businesswoman.

"She's a member of the Maryland Republican leadership with a very right-wing voting record who's supporting Donald Trump," he said.

Others were reveling in the joys of not campaigning.

Former Del. Jon Cardin, who lost his race for attorney general in 2014, said he attended to network with a new lobbying client.

"This is my first time in Crisfield as a noncandidate, and it's liberating," he said. "I did get to enjoy a beer."

Donnie Stotelmeyer, town clerk of Williamsport in Western Maryland, traveled more than 200 miles in the hope of inviting Hogan to visit his town and hear about its efforts to attract the headquarters of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

He got his facetime and made a brief pitch. Mission accomplished.

"I'm going to go and eat some crabs now," he said.

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