Dems’ Senate ‘Nightmare’ May Have Just Come True

[Public Domain]

Democrats’ hopes of holding a Senate seat in the blue state of Maryland might have just gotten crushed as a widely popular, moderate Republican is now in the running.

Former GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, who was comfortably elected twice statewide, launched a surprise Senate campaign on Feb. 9 for the seat currently held by retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin. After receiving a batch of daunting poll numbers, several Maryland-based political operatives believe Hogan’s candidacy is upending the Democrats’ chances at holding what otherwise would’ve been an easy seat to retain, they told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Republicans view this as a gift, and the Democrats view it as a nightmare,” Paul Ellington, Republican strategist based in Maryland and former state GOP executive director, told the DCNF.

Hogan won the governor’s race in 2014 by nearly four points and secured a second term by roughly 12 points in 2018, becoming only the second Republican in state history to be reelected to the position. The then-governor battled non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma shortly after first taking office, and has been cancer-free since 2016.

The former governor left office in early 2023 with his statewide popularity intact, as 77% of Marylanders approved of his job performance. Democrats awarded Hogan with higher numbers than Republicans did at 81% to 68%, respectively, and 76% of unaffiliated voters approved of the governor.

“I think there’s a very real chance that he could win, because he has a record to run on. He has eight years as being the governor, he did not raise taxes, he governed from a common sense point of view and [focused on] kitchen table issues. He didn’t get involved in … the partisan pettiness. In fact, he rose above it and made great strides in establishing himself as moderate, fair-minded governor,” Ellington said. “His poll numbers reflected that, that’s not just speculation. People would have reelected him as governor for a third term if [they] could have.”

An Emerson College poll released Feb. 15 found Hogan tied with Democratic Rep. David Trone and leading Democratic County Executive Angela Alsobrooks by seven points for potential general election matchups. The survey also found the former governor ahead of both Democrats by double digits among independent voters.

Hogan overwhelmingly beat the other lesser-known Republican candidates included in the Emerson College poll, while Trone led Alsobrooks 32% to 17% for the Democratic primary among a crowded field.

Trone’s Senate campaign brought in $23.7 million this cycle and currently has $454,850 cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings. Alsobrooks reported raising $5 million for the Senate race and entered 2024 with $3.1 million in hard dollars.

The congressman, who is a wealthy businessman, has already spent $23.4 million on the race compared to Alsobrooks’ $1.9 million, FEC data shows.

“There’s no question that this is an uphill battle, especially with a billionaire in the race who’s spent something like $25 million already, but Governor Hogan has already received an outpouring of support from Marylanders fed up with the status quo,” Michael Ricci, spokesman for the Hogan campaign, told the DCNF in a statement. “Democrats are in the middle of a bruising primary, and we’re looking forward to seeing who emerges when the smoke clears.”

Republican state Sen. Justin Ready echoed Ricci’s sentiment and told the DCNF a bruising Democratic primary could dampen the nominee’s chances against Hogan.

“It’s another place that Democrats have to play defense, and they have [sic] a very competitive, potentially divisive primary they’re engaged in between two contenders,” Ready said. “Coming out of that, they’re going to have a very tough customer when it comes to having an opponent.”

Ready pointed to the 2014 gubernatorial race as precedent, where Democrats had a similar competitive primary. Then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown won the Democratic nomination, but Hogan said “not so fast” and sailed to the governor’s mansion, the state senator told the DCNF.

Another survey on the race was released on Wednesday and was conducted by longtime Hogan pollster Ragnar Research Partners and commissioned by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the Senate GOP’s campaign arm. The poll found Hogan beating Trone by 16 points, as well as Alsobrooks by 23 points.

“Democrats are panicking because Marylanders know Governor Hogan as a popular former governor with an independent brand and record of results,” Tate Mitchell, spokesman for the NRSC, told the DCNF in a statement. “Governor Hogan is uniquely positioned to win this race.”

Democrats’ slim control of the upper chamber is in an increasingly tough position ahead of November, while Republicans’ Senate map looks promising.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is already having to defend vulnerable incumbents in MontanaOhioWisconsinPennsylvania and Nevada, as well as open seats Republicans are hoping to flip in Arizona and MichiganWest Virginia is likely to flip red in 2024 with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin retiring his seat.

Len Foxwell, a Democratic strategist based in Maryland, acknowledged that Hogan’s candidacy will make the state more competitive.

“It’s certainly going to force Democrats to realign their resources and invest in a state that they thought they wouldn’t have to spend five minutes paying attention to,” Foxwell told the DCNF. “So from that perspective, it’s unwelcome news.”

Some of the state GOP operatives believe Democrats will try to link Hogan with former President Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to turn off Maryland voters.

“What the Dems will try to do is tag him as a ‘Trumper.’ They’re talking like, ‘Mitch McConnell Republican’ and stuff like that. And you know, voters in Maryland have seen him for eight years,” Jim Burton, former state GOP executive director and longtime Republican operative in Maryland, told the DCNF. “Some of that stuff that the Dems want to try to throw at him as being this, you know, ‘he’s just like those Washington Republicans.’ You know, ‘he’s just like Donald Trump.’ I just don’t think Marylanders are going to … believe that.”

While many Republican Senate candidates have rallied around Trump’s candidacy, Hogan is a vocal critic who has endorsed former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in the GOP primary.

Foxwell believes that while Hogan “remains exceedingly popular with voters across partisan lines in the state,” the Senate seat will remain in Democratic hands.

“We are a state that … will grant ourselves permission given the right set of circumstances to cross partisan lines, and elect a Republican governor who we believe has positive qualities, or if we believe the Democratic candidate fails to measure up,” Foxwell said. “That does not extend to Senate races, which are contested on federal issues, where the choice is much more binary, and it boils down to a simple question of whether you will caucus with the Republicans or the Democrats.”

Some of the issues Foxwell believes the race will likely hinge on include abortion, gun control and U.S. Supreme Court appointments.

Maryland went for Hillary Clinton and President Joe Biden by large margins in 2016 and 2020, respectively. The last time Maryland had a Republican senator it was Charles Mathias, who left office in 1987. All but one of the blue state’s U.S. House members are Democrats.

The Cook Political Report characterizes the race as in the “Likely D” column, along with indicted Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey’s seat.

“If anyone can flip a blue state, it’s going to be Larry Hogan,” Burton told the DCNF.

The state Republican Party is hoping to shore up support in November for the Senate race, as well as for three open seats in the House, Chairwoman Nicole Beus Harris told the DCNF in a statement.

“If former Governor Hogan wins the Republican Senate Primary, because of his name recognition, his last favorability numbers, and his network, combined with the plans that the Maryland GOP has in place for the general election, the Senate seat could definitely be a Republican win,” Harris said.

Hogan teased a presidential run in early 2023 where he frequently made the case for an alternative to the former president. Shortly after he ruled it out, Hogan declined to run for Senate, as well.

Many speculated that Hogan would run on centrist organization No Labels‘ “unity ticket,” which the group is weighing running in 2024 in opposition to both Trump and Biden.

“For the voter that has concerns about Biden but doesn’t like Trump, Larry Hogan’s the sweet spot,” Ready said.

Trone’s campaign, Alsobrooks’ campaign, the DSCC and the Maryland Democratic Party did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

Mary Lou Masters on February 21, 2024


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