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Politics

Is Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan eyeing the White House? Follow these signs.

Years of speculation about Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s political future were hardly put to bed when the term-limited Republican announced that he wouldn’t run for U.S. Senate.

It is not even the beginning of the end of the chatter — locally and nationally — about Hogan’s future plans. Rumors about potential presidential ambitions have floated around Hogan for nearly his entire time in office, and he flirted with running in the 2020 campaign. And so, with the next presidential election still two years away, it’s probably not even the end of the beginning.

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Hogan himself has done nothing to tamp down speculation and has clearly held the door open for launching a campaign. But the governor has also done little to tip his hand about his considerations.

“In January of 2023, I’ll have plenty of time to think about what the future holds,” Hogan said last week while announcing he won’t challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen. “I think the world’s going to be a different place a year from now.”

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So The Baltimore Sun consulted with several political experts to mull over just what gearing up for a presidential run might look like, what it takes to build a viable campaign and whether there are any telltale signs that Hogan is positioning himself for higher office.

Brand yourself nationally

“Hogan” may be a household name in Maryland, but mounting a national campaign and racking up victories in political primaries in farther-flung states like Nevada or South Carolina requires a level of fame well beyond statewide prominence. Politicians plotting a push for the presidency — including governors like Hogan looking to jump to the national stage — often invest years building up their profile elsewhere in the country.

Hogan has already made some of the classic moves, noted Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College. Hogan published a political memoir in 2020 and is a regular guest on the Sunday network talk shows. In 2019 he launched his own national advocacy group, An America United, and the next year became the co-chair of the bipartisan No Labels national political advocacy group, which promotes what it bills as centrist policy solutions.

In an odd way, former President Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House proved good for Hogan in terms of raising his profile, said J. Miles Coleman, a political analyst and editor at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. Hogan’s willingness to throw barbs at the president made him a favorite guest on some national television programs and a leading voice of dissent within the party.

So while Trump’s takeover of the GOP certainly pushed politicos like Hogan to the margins, Coleman said, Hogan also “has more name recognition now across the country than before Trump.”

Hit the campaign trail

Even though Hogan won’t be on the ballot this year, expect the governor to hit the campaign trail hard — and not only in Maryland, where he’s expected to campaign for Republican Kelly Schulz, his former commerce secretary — but nationally.

Hogan has already pledged to crisscross the country to support like-minded Republicans, especially those who’ve also been regular critics of Trump. That kind of political barnstorming gives politicians like Hogan the chance to stump outside their states, appeal to voters and solidify relationships with fellow Republicans elsewhere, analyst Coleman noted.

“That’s one way to kind of get some goodwill in the Republican Party,” said Coleman, suggesting Hogan might stump for Republicans trying to knock off Democratic governors in key swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin. “If a lot of candidates he campaigns for end up winning — which could well be the case because it’s looking like a good Republican year — that could well be a good springboard for him: ‘I helped all these Republicans win, let’s beat Biden now.’”

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Coleman noted that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie used a similar strategy — stumping for Republican candidates across the country in 2014, including Hogan in Maryland — to try to launch his 2016 bid for the nomination.

Build the donor network; work the party machinery

Racking up the airline miles in this year’s midterms wouldn’t just give Hogan a chance to appeal to voters outside Maryland, said Julia Azari, a political science professor at Marquette University who studies presidential campaigns. It’d also give him a great chance to meet with Republican donors and build up his network within the national GOP.

Those relationships, Azari said, could be invaluable when it comes time to line up endorsements and raise the millions upon millions of dollars needed to fund a presidential campaign.

And truckloads of cash won’t be useful only for buying TV airtime and hiring staff, Azari said. For a candidate like Hogan — seen as on the outs with the Trump-dominated national party — posting big fundraising hauls could “demonstrate you’re a viable candidate” and grab the attention of the media and party elites.

Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina?

All of those steps might help boost Hogan’s stature in the national Republican Party — but none commit him to actually launching a campaign for president. Those chits and contacts could be handy for any number of other moves post-governorship.

But if Hogan starts regularly jetting off to New Hampshire and Iowa, you’ll know he’s at least dipping his toes into presidential waters. Both states are traditional proving grounds for candidates because they host the first contests of the cycle and thus the first real tests of a candidate’s appeal to voters.

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Hogan caused a stir at the “Politics & Eggs” event in New Hampshire in 2019. A flurry of future appearances in either state suggests a politician trying to warm up to key party voters — and signal to the political press he or she wants to be a contender. An out-of-state governor gobbling up fried Twinkies at an Iowa county fair, Coleman said, would be “a pretty telltale sign” they’ve got serious presidential ambitions.

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Some have questioned whether the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary remain important to winning the nomination. But Azari said that if you’re not as prominent or a well-known candidate — a Larry Hogan, say, instead of a Donald Trump — then “you might as well try that old strategy because, although we don’t know if Iowa and New Hampshire are going to be that significant, we do know they’re going to be early.”

Both states are also traditionally swarmed with political reporters and so, with all the big newspapers and plenty of cameras around, a strong showing in the polls there could shower a candidate with attention and shape the national media narrative.

Hogan “is going to have his work cut out for him,” Coleman said, “but if he can make a strong showing in New Hampshire to start the primary season, I could see that boding well for him.”

Timeline

The clearest signal of all will be if — or when — Hogan creates a so-called exploratory committee to bankroll a nascent presidential bid. But don’t expect an announcement like that for many months.

The early jockeying will likely heat up once the November elections are over and party leaders can start reading the tea leaves — as well as claiming credit or casting blame for the results. Some candidates could start declaring their candidacy before the end of the year, all three experts said, although many Republicans may want to bide their time until Trump makes his own intentions known.

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Last cycle, some Democrats started declaring in January 2019 — more than a year before the first primary — and “I would expect to see some candidates making serious declarations then,” Azari said.

An official move from Hogan likely won’t come until a bit later. Maryland’s next governor will be sworn in Jan. 18, 2023, and Hogan has made clear he won’t decide whether to launch a campaign while still in office.

For the record

This article has been corrected to say that An America United, an organization Gov. Larry Hogan founded, is an advocacy organization. An earlier version called it a political action committee. The Sun regrets the error.


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