Election 2020

Why Maryland's Republican Governor Might be Nervous About November

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan at the National Governors Association meeting July 13, 2017, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Maryland Democrats fueled by victories in their state and Virginia on Nov. 7 woke up the next day with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in their sights. Alabama’s December special election, as far as Democrats were concerned, painted a big, red bull’s-eye on Hogan, along with a dozen other Republican governors.

Two incumbent Republican mayors in Maryland were defeated that day, along with the Democrats’ well-documented victories in Virginia. And then, a month later, Alabama voters chose Democrat Doug Jones to the Senate over the GOP candidate, Roy Moore.

The Maryland gubernatorial race is only one of 13 November elections of which Democrats feel good about their chances of unseating Republican governors in states that President Obama carried in 2012.

“This is a moment that’s a once-in-a-50-year opportunity, and it calls for maximum effort,” eDemocratic Governors Association Chairman Jay Inslee told Vox.

Elisabeth Pearson, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, said Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama revealed how divided the Republican Party is going into the 2018 midterm elections.

Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College, said the morning of Nov. 8 must have been tough for Hogan.

“(Hogan) had to wake up that morning a heck of a lot less confident,” Eberly told the Washington Post. “There is an in­cred­ibly energized Democratic electorate out there.”

Democratic voters angered by the Republican tax plan might only make Gov. Hogan feel worse in November.

John Willis, a professor at the University of Baltimore, told WAMU what happens in Washington between now and November will impact 2018 state and local elections and the Maryland gubernatorial vote is no exception.

“We have a $43 billion budget,” Willis said. “Thirty percent of it is federal dollars. To the extent that Congress and the administration start cutting programs or impacting that 30 percent, that causes stress for the legislature and the Maryland governor, whoever it is.”

“So the difficult thing for the governor is how to, ‘Gee whiz, I’m happy my party’s in power, by golly, I’m really with you on all these issues,’” Willis added. “And is the average voter really going to believe that?”

Another example of a Trump administration proposal that angered Maryland Democrats is the plan to permit oil and gas drilling off the U.S. coast.

“Protecting our environment and precious natural resources is a top priority for Governor Hogan and exactly why he has made clear that he opposes this kind of exploration off our coastline,” said Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer.

Mayer also said Hogan directed his attorney general “to take any legal action necessary against the federal government to prevent this possible exploration.”

Josh Kurtz, the editor of Maryland Matters, said Hogan is going to have to keep his distance from President Trump without alienating GOP voters.

“He can’t completely turn off conservative Republican voters. He needs them to turn out in heavy numbers to win also,” said Kurtz.

The last time Maryland voters chose to re-elect a Republican governor was when Theodore McKeldin won the 1954 election. But even with that history working against him, Maryland GOP Chair Dirk Haire doesn’t sense enough anti-Trump sentiment to sink Gov. Hogan’s re-election bid.

“He’s the second-most-popular governor in the country,” Haire said, as he pointed out that past attempts by Democrats to link Hogan with Trump had failed.

Hogan has to be hoping Democrats figure out how to do it in 2018.

Nearly 62 percent of Maryland voters disapproved of Trump’s performance in a Morning Consult poll released in October.

A Mason-Dixon Polling Strategy survey of Maryland voters found nearly half of all Democratic voters approved of Hogan’s performance in office last year. But only 25 percent, on average, said they would vote for him in 2018.

“A significant majority of Maryland voters like Republican governor Larry Hogan and have a positive opinion about his performance in office,” said J. Brad Coker, the managing director of Mason-Dixon. “However, despite these typically reliable indicators of an incumbent’s political strength, Hogan’s party affiliation makes his reelection far from certain.”

The Mason-Dixon poll showed Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III would be the strongest of a list of Democrats to run against Hogan.

That list is long enough to concern some Democrats. Eight candidates on the party’s gubernatorial primary ballot will have to worry about defeating each other before the victor can tear into Hogan.

“I’ve never seen a race this wide open,” said Josh Kurtz. “A lot of people have a path to victory in the primary.”

But Elisabeth Pearson said the long list of candidates would not slow the Democratic Party in Maryland or any other state with a vulnerable Republican in the governor’s office.

“We are always going to be on the offensive,” Pearson said.