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Elections

As Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan faces uncertain political future, allies insist his time will come

After Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s choice to succeed him flopped in last week’s Republican primary, his political allies insisted Hogan’s calm brand of moderation will ultimately prevail over the Donald Trump-led right wing.

“At the end of the day, the governor will be right and Trump and his ego will be wrong,” longtime Hogan strategist Doug Mayer said. “It’s the long game.”

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But how long?

Even before Hogan-endorsed Kelly Schulz, a former state commerce secretary, lost to Trump-backed Dan Cox, analysts said it was difficult to say when — or if — Hogan’s moment would come in a national party whose base remains enthralled by the twice-impeached 45th president Hogan has often opposed.

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Former New Jersey governor and presidential candidate Chris Christie was among those rallying to the two-term Maryland governor’s defense after Schulz’s loss to Cox, a Frederick County state delegate who relied heavily on Trump’s endorsement.

“I think Larry stuck his neck out for Kelly because he believes in her and she’s done a good job for him and the government. But the responsibility of winning or losing an election is on the candidate,” Christie said in an interview.

Christie said Hogan possesses a pragmatic style and authenticity that makes him an “appealing” presidential candidate in any era. Hogan has not said yet whether he will run for president in 2024.

But it’s uncertain how the party will position itself relative to Trump in the 2024 race, making Hogan akin to a piece trying to fit into a puzzle with no clear shape.

Hogan traveled earlier this month to New Hampshire, a key presidential primary state, where he met with business groups and tweeted about his “roadmap” to provide relief from inflation.

“Hogan is a two-term, popular governor who couldn’t get his qualified, attractive choice nominated as his successor — even against an extremist like Dan Cox. Not very auspicious,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

“Hogan can be saluted for trying to bring his party back to sanity, but he has about as much chance of being the GOP nominee for president as Liz Cheney has of being reelected to Congress. Sometimes, virtue has to be its own reward,” Sabato said.

A recent poll from the Casper Star-Tribune showed Cheney, a Wyoming Republican congresswoman, would lose badly to Trump-backed candidate Harriet Hageman in an Aug. 16 primary. Cheney is vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.

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Hogan responded quickly to Cox’s win, tweeting the following morning that Trump had cost Republicans the White House, the House, the Senate and now the Maryland governor’s seat.

“He’s fighting for his ego. We’re fighting to win, and the fight goes on,” the governor tweeted.

On Sunday, a defiant Hogan told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “I’m not giving up, it just makes me want to double down and fight back against what I think is kind of a hostile takeover of the party that I love.”

Hogan, who has called Cox “a Q-Anon whack job,” has said he will not vote for his party’s nominee in November.

Cox will face former nonprofit leader Wes Moore in November. Moore won the Democratic primary Friday after two days of mail-in ballot counting.

Hogan, who was term-limited from seeking reelection, declined a request for an interview. When approached at an event Thursday, he said he doesn’t consider Schulz’s defeat a repudiation of his tenure.

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“Not really,” said Hogan, who consistently polls as one of the most popular governors in the country. “I just think it was, you know, candidates matter and campaigns matter,” he said.

Hogan appeared with Schulz during the campaign and emphasized that she was the closest candidate to him and his policies. Also, her running mate, Jeff Woolford, had held several roles in Hogan’s administration.

Hogan’s daughter, Jaymi Sterling, netted 70% of the votes in a Republican primary Tuesday, “so if it was a repudiation of me, she wouldn’t be the state’s attorney in St. Mary’s County,” Hogan said. No Democrats filed to seek their party’s nomination for prosecutor.

Doug Heye, a longtime Republican strategist, said Hogan’s statement indicates “he’s not intending to go quietly into that good night.”

Should Cox lose in the general election in November — as many expect, given his lack of crossover appeal in a state where Democrats have a 2-to-1 advantage — Heye said Hogan could say: “I told you so.”

Hogan could be helped by what Heye sees as Trump’s waning grip on the GOP. The Jan. 6 committee’s hearings have revealed damaging information, and his endorsements are not always successful, said Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee. He pointed to a private meeting that the House Study Group, the largest bloc of congressional conservatives, had Wednesday with former Vice President Mike Pence in which members reportedly praised Pence’s “courage” on Jan. 6 and urged him to run for president in 2024.

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“You’re seeing people inching away from Trump,” Heye said.

In 2018, Hogan became the first Republican to be reelected Maryland governor since Theodore McKeldin in 1954.

Republican Robert Ehrlich, who was governor from 2003 to 2007, declined in an interview to weigh in on Hogan’s prospects, citing his close relationship with the outgoing governor.

But Ehrlich downplayed suggestions that Cox’s win highlights some deep weakness, divide or change in the Maryland Republican Party. He suggested it has more to do with voters’ dissatisfaction with the state of the country under Democratic President Joe Biden and a desire to push back in the opposite direction.

“I don’t see a philosophical divide in our party; I see a personal divide,” Ehrlich said. “The difference is Trump’s personality. Some people love it; some people hate it.”

Trump got just 32% of Maryland’s vote against Biden in 2020.

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But many in the state Republican Party leadership, minus Hogan, have been supportive of Trump. Cox’s primary night victory party in Frederick County was filled with Trump banners, including a “Trump 2024″ sign prominently displayed on a wall.

“The party has always had its elements, its more right-wing factions,” said Linda Chavez, a one-time Maryland Republican who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. “But now what seems like a small faction has taken over the party.”

Cox’s win was “unfortunate,” said Chavez, the Maryland GOP nominee in 1986 for a U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Charles McC. Mathias, a liberal Republican back when there was such a thing.

“The chances of Mr. Cox winning in November are somewhere between zero and minus-10 — worse than me against Barbara Mikulski.”

Chavez grew disenchanted with her party long before the primary. She left the GOP in December 2020 after Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri announced that he would not vote to certify the Electoral College results on Jan. 6.

“You finally got me to do something I should have done months ago,” Chavez tweeted at Hawley. “Your un-American assault on the Constitution has finally led me to leave the GOP, which has become the party of grifters and conspirators.”

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Chavez said she believes Hogan has a future in politics, despite the party seemingly having turned its back on the kind of moderation he espouses. But something would have to change, she said, such as the emergence of a new centrist coalition or even party.

“I would support Hogan for president in a heartbeat,” Chavez said. “There are a number of Republicans I would support for president. The problem is, I don’t think they would win.”

Ian Anson, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said Cox’s win does not necessarily signal “the death knell of moderate Republicans in Maryland.”

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Elections are won by candidates and their campaign — from their messaging to their ground game — more so than endorsements, he said.

Anson said he doesn’t believe Hogan will be damaged by his chosen successor’s primary loss. Hogan also endorsed Thiru Vignarajah, who lost the Democratic primary for Baltimore state’s attorney on Friday to fellow challenger Ivan Bates.

If and when Hogan runs again, much likely will have changed in the political landscape and details of the 2022 Maryland primary may well be forgotten.

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“Voters aren’t fools, but they do tend to be myopic,” Anson said.

And if Cox fails to win the general election, he too may be lost to history.

“It’s kind of a net zero for [Hogan]: ‘Well, my person didn’t win, but this other person doesn’t win either,’” Anson said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Scott Dance and Ngan Ho contributed to this article.


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