By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
Maryland’s GOP gubernatorial candidates volleying for the party nomination sat down for a more than two-hour debate on the Johns Hopkins University campus last week, but one contender was noticeably absent from the table.
Larry Hogan, since the announcement of his campaign late January, has missed at least five major forums and debates due to scheduling conflicts, a habit some of his Republican opponents have derided.
“For the candidates that are here, I am grateful that they’re here and honored that they’re here. Because to be quite honest, we’re asking you for your vote, we’re asking you to nominate us, and last I checked, I don’t hire somebody if they don’t show up for the interview,” said GOP candidate Charles Lollar at the Johns Hopkins debate.
Hogan emphasizes personal level in campaign
Hogan, founder of grassroots political advocacy group Change Maryland, said he has heard the criticism, but that the campaign has applied an alternative — but still active — approach to reaching voters.
Hogan said he’s attempted to connect with citizens on a personal level, chatting up local business owners, engaging in door-to-door canvassing and speaking to smaller groups — he said he’s visited 20 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, but hopes to reach all before the June 24 primary.
He also pointed to the fact that no GOP candidate has attended every forum, debate, luncheon, event they’ve been invited to.
“I just don’t agree with how we’ve been characterized,” he said.
When he was invited to the Johns Hopkins debate weeks ahead of its arranged date, Hogan said he asked the organizers, the Johns Hopkins College Republicans, to reschedule because he had already committed to a fundraising event that night. A couple of the debates he missed early on because he had yet to announce his candidacy, he said.
Adam Dubitsky, campaign director for Hogan, pointed to successful fundraising donations, more than all the other GOP challengers combined. As of April 11, Hogan’s campaign raised $422,000 in mostly small donations.
Dubitsky said the campaign has tried for a more personal touch, with an emphasis on the grassroots support and improving Hogan’s social media presence.
Missing campaign appearances can raise viability question, expert says
John Bullock, a political science professor at Towson University specializing in local and state politics said he understands Hogan’s campaign strategy, but chronically missing such visible public appearances gives a poor impression.
“It gives people the impression it’s not really a viable candidacy,” Bullock said. “Especially with all the energy on the Democratic side.”
A personal, one-on-one approach does foster a sense of sincerity in a candidate, Bullock said, but saps a lot of time and sometimes doesn’t reach the same volume of people.
Hogan’s other competitors did not address Hogan’s campaign strategy — Harford County Executive David Craig did not respond to request for comment and Anne Arundel Del. Ron George and his campaign would only provide a statement.
“We look forward to any opportunity to meet with voters and share our message of fiscal conservative, solution-oriented government. Debates are an important part of the electoral process, and we will make every effort to participate in as many as possible leading up to June 24,” the statement reads. “Ron George believes the free exchange of ideas is how a constructive democracy works best. We encourage all candidates to share their ideas in an open format so voters can make an informed decision on Election Day.”