Larry Hogan, who just made a surprise announcement of a 2024 Senate bid, is a bit of a unicorn in today’s MAGA-flavored Republican Party: a relatively centrist politician who has twice won statewide in a deep-blue state while regularly dissing Donald Trump. He’s legitimately a moderate, though no liberal. For example, he opposed restricting abortion in his state before and after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, but he also opposed expanding abortion access. And he worked reasonably well with Maryland’s Democratic-controlled legislature — so well, in fact, that virtually no down-ballot Republicans were elected on his coattails.
Term-limited at the end 2022, Hogan got a lot of media attention for criticizing Trump and was even the subject of some ill-informed speculation that he might run for president in the 2024 Republican primaries. He also became active in that centrist fantasy land, the No Labels organization. And when Hogan stepped down from its board, there was some more ill-informed speculation that he might be preparing a presidential bid as part of a No Labels “unity ticket.” He said “no” to that prospect and then last month endorsed the presidential candidacy of Nikki Haley.
Perhaps this sign that Hogan wanted to remain within the general confines of the Republican Party signaled his next step, which surprised a lot of people: deciding to run for the Senate seat being vacated by three-term Democratic incumbent Ben Cardin. It’s quite the recruiting coup for Republicans, who last won a U.S. Senate race in Maryland in 1980. And although it’s been obvious for a bit that Hogan wasn’t actually looking in its direction, it’s a blow to No Labels, which has been making noises about wanting a Republican at the top if its “unity ticket” to allay concerns it was secretly or stupidly acting as Trump pawns. There’s really no other Republican in its orbit with the kind of recent electoral credibility Hogan has demonstrated.
Hogan’s interest in becoming a freshman senator at the age of 68 is a bit of a mystery. Yes, he’d have a shorter commute than most senators and is already a familiar figure to the beltway media types who determine which puffed-up lawmakers get attention in a Capitol crowded with big egos. But it would in other respects represent a demotion. Governors have entire state governments reporting to them and can make news whenever they want, while senators have small staffs mostly composed of children and must fight for headlines and sound bites. But presumably Hogan really wants the job.
Whether he wins it or not is another subject altogether. Surely Maryland Republican officials in Washington and in Maryland offered their first-borns to Hogan for giving them the best chance to win a Senate seat in the Old Line State in ages in an election cycle where they have high hopes of flipping control of the chamber. But you never know what sort of MAGA opposition might arise: In 2022, Hogan’s hand-picked candidate to succeed him as governor, Kelly Schulz, was waxed by Trump zealot Dan Cox in the GOP primary (Cox went on to lose badly to Democrat Wes Moore in the general election). Assuming he does brush aside intra-party opposition, Hogan will face either ultrawealthy congressman David Trone or Prince George’s county executive Angela Alsobrooks (who holds the same position in that large D.C. suburb as Hogan’s father once occupied back in the day).
While Hogan has obviously shown he can win a statewide campaign in Maryland, he hasn’t run for a federal office in a presidential year, much less one in a hyperpolarized election year like 2024. He has vowed not to back either Biden or Trump if they are the major-party nominees in November and has also let it be known he did not vote for Trump in 2016 or 2020. In that sense, he is positioned to run as someone who is fiercely independent, but Democratic partisanship will be hard for him to overcome this time around. If nothing else, he’ll force Democrats to spend money in Maryland they’d prefer to spend on crucial Senate races in Ohio or Montana. For that, even Trump-supporting Republicans will be grateful.
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