- The Washington Times
Thursday, July 14, 2022

Gov. Larry Hogan has been making the rounds ahead of a possible 2024 presidential run and saying voters want less radioactive — and more centered — political leaders.

His argument will be tested Tuesday in his political backyard when Republican primary voters decide whether to back his former commerce secretary, Kelly Schulz, or go with Delegate Dan Cox, the preferred candidate of former President Donald Trump.

“If he puts chips on the table, it is better that his candidate comes across and wins than not,” said Tom Rath, a longtime New Hampshire Republican Party strategist who has been keeping tabs on Mr. Hogan and other anti-Trump Republicans eyeing White House runs.

In other words, bragging rights are on the line.

Polls show a tight race for the Republican nomination, which also includes Delegate Robin Ficker and lawyer Joe Werner. 

The race for the Democratic nomination also is shaping up to be a down-to-the-wire race featuring state Comptroller Peter Franchot, former anti-poverty nonprofit CEO Wes Moore and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

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The crowded Democratic field also includes former state Attorney General Doug Gansler, former Education Secretary John King, former nonprofit executive Jon Baron and former Obama White House staffer Ashwani Jain.

Mr. Trump this week reiterated his support for Mr. Cox. He told his loyal supporters that the conservative Republican will prove Maryland is “much more red than anyone would ever know or believe.”

“More importantly, Dan will end Larry Hogan’s terrible RINO reign by defeating his ‘Never Trump’ successor, another low-energy RINO, Kelly Schulz,” Mr. Trump said. 

Mr. Trump said Mr. Hogan is “one of the worst [governors] in the country” and has “governed more like a Democrat than a Republican.”

A recent Goucher College poll showed that Maryland Republicans were more behind Mr. Trump than Mr. Hogan.

The June survey found that 45% of the state’s Republican voters said they would not consider voting for Mr. Hogan if he ran for president, while 48% said Mr. Trump should continue to lead the Republican Party.

Indeed, 50% of Maryland Republicans said they had a “very favorable” opinion of Mr. Trump, compared with 28% who said that about Mr. Hogan.

Mr. Hogan is term-limited and cannot run again. He passed on running for the U.S. Senate despite pressure to run from Washington Republicans.

Mr. Hogan endorsed Ms. Schulz in the spring. He has made a couple of appearances with her and made fundraising calls on her behalf. 

In the closing days of the campaign, Mr. Hogan has been on the road. He swung through the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire before jumping over to Maine for a National Governors Association conference. 

Mr. Hogan is not scheduled to join Ms. Schulz on the campaign trail before the Tuesday election.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Hogan, meanwhile, could be on a crash course in the 2024 Republican presidential race, where the former president would start as the clear front-runner.

“I feel very confident that, if I decide to run, I’ll win,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with New York Magazine, teasing the idea that he could announce he is running before the midterm elections.

Mr. Hogan is betting Mr. Trump’s grip on the party is loosening and the House’s Jan. 6 select committee hearings are showing voters why another Trump presidency would be dangerous.

“I think America is hopelessly divided right now,” Mr. Hogan said this week in an interview with WMUR9 in Manchester, New Hampshire. “There’s a lot of angry and divisive rhetoric out there, frankly, on both sides of the aisle, and the loudest, angriest voices seem to get all the attention.” 

“I think another Donald Trump presidency would continue to exacerbate that,” he said.

Mr. Hogan posted a photograph from his visit with former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush at the family home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

There has been friction between Mr. Trump and the Bush family, which has come to personify a Republican brand and policies that helped give rise to the party’s populist wing.

Mr. Bush has backed Republicans who have fallen out of favor with Mr. Trump, such as Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

David Kochel, an Iowa-based Republican Party strategist, said there is room for someone like Mr. Hogan to run in 2024, but he said the “safe bet for any national candidate would be to run in the grievance lane, which will be crowded with all sorts of Trump imitators and, more importantly, Trump himself.”

“That’s where most of the voters are today. But there will be a few candidates who just aren’t built that way,” Mr. Kochel said. “A blue state Republican governor can come with an entirely new message: ‘I’ve fought in the toughest environment and won.’ I’m not sure it’s a winner, but it won’t be drowned out with copycats.” 

Others were more pessimistic about Mr. Hogan’s future.

“Who?” said Michael Biundo, a former Trump adviser. “In all seriousness, though, Larry Hogan’s path to the White House, with or without Trump in his way, is at this moment nonexistent.

He would need much more than some stray visits to New Hampshire and a primary win in his home state to blaze a trail,” he said.

In the governor’s race, Ms. Schultz’s challenge has been to strike a balance between vowing to govern in a Hoganesque fashion while creating her own brand.

That message has had to compete in recent weeks with the $1.5 million that the Democratic Governors Association has dumped into mischievous attack ads against Mr. Cox to beef up his primary support.

David Weinman, executive director of An America United, Mr. Hogan’s political advocacy group, said Democrats are eager to move past the Hogan brand.

“Gov. Hogan’s common sense, unifying, and results-oriented leadership approach is already a proven success with voters: He won twice as a Republican in the bluest state in America and has maintained sky-high approval ratings with every single demographic for eight years,” he said. “That’s exactly why national Democrats are spending millions of dollars to nominate a fringe whacko who stands no chance in November.

“They’re so petrified of losing for a third consecutive time that they are clinging to Trump’s personal grievance tour as a life raft,” he said.

Mr. Cox did not respond to a request for comment.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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