Larry Hogan launches US Senate bid, boosting GOP’s quest to retake majority

Gun Rights

Former Maryland governor Larry Hogan launched a surprise bid for an open U.S. Senate seat on Friday, filing hours before the deadline and immediately capturing GOP hopes to retake power in the chamber.

Hogan led deeply Democratic Maryland for two terms and left office with high approval ratings. He had previously ruled out a run for Senate in 2022 to chase a potential presidential bid, which he abandoned last year.

National Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), again recruited Hogan this year. The last-minute bid launched so quickly his campaign website was not finished as his announcement video landed.

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“It all kind of developed late,” McConnell said of Hogan, who has long been the Republicans’ recruiting white whale. “He’s immensely popular. And who would have thought we could be competitive in a blue state like Maryland? We clearly will be.”

McConnell called the recruitment a “boost” to Republican efforts to take back the Senate majority. The GOP’s top targets are the open seat of West Virginia, where Gov. Jim Justice is running as a Republican and on a glide path to victory, and the red states of Montana and Ohio, where Democratic incumbents are hoping to keep their seats.

In a video announcing his bid to succeed retiring Sen. Ben Cardin (D), Hogan deployed the same themes that allowed him to simultaneously build support among Democrats, independents and Republicans.

“Washington is completely broken,” he said because a “willingness to put country ahead of party is far too rare.”

Using more lines familiar to Maryland residents, he cast his candidacy as one against partisanship in general, and he described himself as “like the exhausted majority of Marylanders.”

“My fellow Marylanders, you know me,” he said. “For eight years, we proved that the toxic politics that divide our nation need not divide our state.”

He’s the lone high-profile Republican in the race. The Democratic primary has become a two-person contest between Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), who has already spent more than $20 million of his own fortune on the race, and Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks, the establishment choice who would be the first Black woman from Maryland elected to the Senate.

Hogan boasts a moderate record, having cut taxes and fees while Democrats passed progressive policies over his veto. His tenure sidestepped social issues, partly out of pragmatism and partly because the Democrats who hold supermajorities in both General Assembly chambers would not support conservative proposals. He hewed to populist policies – reducing tolls and demanding air conditioning in schools, or cutting taxes for retirees.

Democratic operatives were quick to point out that Hogan has never run in a presidential year nor had to explain to Maryland voters how he would act on federal legislation. On abortion, for example, he has described himself as an antiabortion Catholic, but that rights to the procedure were a matter of settled law in Maryland. On gun control, he backed a red-flag law and a ban on the sales of bump stocks, but also had high ratings from the National Rifle Association. Democrats were quick to criticize Hogan’s candidacy as an opportunity for Republicans to seize more power in Washington.

“A vote for Republican Larry Hogan is a vote to make Mitch McConnell Majority Leader and turn the Senate over to Republicans so they can pass a national abortion ban. Democrats have won every statewide federal election in Maryland for 44 years, and 2024 will be no different,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Maeve Coyle said in a statement.

Two years ago, Hogan was courted by national Republicans to challenge Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and help the GOP tip the chamber’s balance of power, but he declined after months of speculation.

“I have repeatedly said, I don’t aspire to be a United States senator, and that fact has not changed,” Hogan said at the time. As recently as Cardin’s retirement announcement in May, Hogan aides pointed to coverage that said, “He has never been interested in the Senate.”

Hogan’s reversal now will test the endurance of his popularity.

Hogan’s electoral success in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 2 to 1 relied on building a coalition: party faithful, a large swath of independents and some Democrats willing to cross-party lines.

The Maryland Republican Party he led has lost many of the pro-Hogan leaders from his tenure, replaced by supporters of former president Donald Trump, whom Hogan has sharply criticized for years.

“It’s definitely interesting. I didn’t expect it,” Adam Wood, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said of Hogan’s candidacy. Wood noted there’s two other open congressional seats in Maryland this year and said, “Hogan or no Hogan, we had a fantastic opportunity with three open seats. We’ve been salivating for a while now.”

Hogan’s handpicked Republican successor for the governorship, Kelly M. Schulz, lost the 2022 primary to far-right candidate Dan Cox, who was closely aligned with Trump and went on to lose the general election to Gov. Wes Moore (D) by more than 32 percentage points.

Cox is now among the crowded field seeking the Republican nomination to Maryland’s most competitive congressional district, which stretches into conservative Western Maryland.

Trone and Alsobrooks, locked in their own high-stakes battle for the Democratic nomination, each quickly attacked Hogan.

“Marylanders are tired of empty promises from career politicians like Larry Hogan,” said Trone, a three-term congressman. “He talks about putting politics aside but spent his entire tenure as governor waging partisan attacks through bad policy,” he added, pointing to ways Hogan “failed the city of Baltimore.”

“Mitch please,” Alsobrooks said in a statement. “Marylanders deserve a Senator who fights for their interests, their freedoms, their democracy. Not Mitch McConnell’s or the Republicans’ new best friend.”

Hogan infuriated Maryland Democrats for years with his ability to sidestep divisive social issues – such as by calling abortion a matter of settled law in Maryland – and focusing instead on pocketbook matters and criticizing politicians for being partisan.

Since leaving office a year ago, he was a co-chair of the centrist group No Labels, which is trying to get presidential candidates on ballots across the state as a potential alternative to President Biden and Trump.

In December, he resigned his leadership position with the organization, and consistently said he wants to be a national voice for the future of the Republican Party. He endorsed former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley in the presidential primary race.

In his announcement video, Hogan referenced his late father, Larry Hogan Sr., who was a Maryland Republican congressman and the first on the Judiciary Committee to call for the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon. He said he wants to bring that same type of integrity to Congress.

Hogan grew up in Prince George’s County and ran a commercial real estate business before his upset bid for governor in 2014. He drew national attention first for his handling of the unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, and later that year for his public battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which has been in remission for years.

During the pandemic, he was a national Republican counterpoint to Trump’s handing of the crisis, leading the National Governor’s Association and enacting mask mandates and shutdowns that some of his GOP counterparts resisted. He ordered tests from South Korea early in the pandemic to much fanfare, though most were flawed and had to be replaced at taxpayer expense.

His policies were pragmatic wins in a Democratic state: a tax on health insurance companies to help keep down the cost of policies sold on the exchanges, a ban on conversion therapy for gay teens, and in his final months, a sweeping tax break for retirees.

Hogan retained unusually high approval ratings since the second year of his tenure, and left office a year ago with a 73 percent approval rating, 20 percentage points higher than his predecessor, Democrat Martin O’Malley.

Liz Goodwin contributed to this report.

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