What kind of Republican can win Maryland’s Senate race in 2016?

What kind of Republican can win Maryland’s Senate race in 2016?

Photos above: Top row: Bob Ehrlich, Kendel Ehrlich, Kathy Szeliga, Andy Harris; bottom row: Laura Neuman, Mary Kane, Dan Bongino, Richard Douglas

By Jim Burton

Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s press conference to announce her retirement last week has hit Maryland politics like a tornado. There are fast moving parts all across the state.

Seven of the eight members of Congress are said to be looking at the race. In the last five days, two congressional members have announced their intention to run. What does this all mean?

Maryland has not experienced this type of a seismic shift in a very long time. When Sen. Sarbanes retired in 2006 only one Congressman jumped into the race, though there were a total of eighteen candidates in the Democratic primary for United States Senate.

Based on the current announcements there will be at least two open House seats in Districts 4 and 8. The mad scramble is on among the Democrats to determine who will run for those seats.

There is no reason for any legislator or an elected county official with interest to not get in the race. They have nothing to lose since their next election is not until 2018. At least on the Democratic side expect rough and tumble primaries for the Congressional seats at the same time Congresswoman Edwards and Congressman Van Hollen are focusing on each other.

What about the Republicans?

Enough about the Democratic side for the Senate seat. What about the Republicans? Can a Republican win? Having reviewed election results and turnout data from the Maryland State Board of Elections. Republicans are at a greater disadvantage in Presidential elections here than in Gubernatorial elections.

MD Voter Turnout

There are also significant differences by party by year for turnout in non-Presidential years. A higher percentage of Republicans turned out in 2002, 2006, 2010, and last year than Democrats.

Gubernatorial TurnoutOf the last four senate races that coincided with the Presidential election the Republican averaged 681,298 votes compared to 1,379,086 votes on average for the Democratic candidate, a difference of nearly 700,000 votes. By way of comparison in the last four senate races held at the same time during a Gubernatorial election the Republican nominee averaged 611,848 votes while the Democratic nominee averaged 994,486 votes, a difference of around 380,000 votes.

What does this mean for a Republican? History demonstrates a race for United States Senate in a gubernatorial year is a much better opportunity for a Republican candidate. But for 2016 can a Republican win the Senate seat? Yes, everything is possible, but how can this be done?

Voters wanted something different

Voters in the state proved they wanted something different in November 2014. There were multiple candidates for Governor in both primaries who were tried and true long term politicians but Larry Hogan won his primary and Anthony Brown won his primary.

Brown ran his general election campaign as the frontrunner and we know how that turned out. Hogan ran on issues that mattered most to voters including getting Annapolis’ fiscal house in order, cutting taxes, and working to create jobs by making Maryland more business friendly. Hogan’s powerful message was well received by Republicans, nonprimary voting Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

As of today there are two high profile Democrats in the race for United States Senate. Republicans are talking about former Governor Bob Ehrlich or possibly the former First Lady Kendel Ehrlich, Delegate Kathy Szeliga, Congressman Andy Harris, former Delegate Jeannie Haddaway Riccio, former County Executive Laura Neuman, Dan Bongino, Richard Douglas, Mary Kane, and others.

To win the Senate seat I believe Republicans should consider a candidate who has a profile similar to Governor Larry Hogan.

Governor Hogan is not a career politician. Yes he had run for office before and had served in the Ehrlich Administration, but he is a successful small businessman. He has real life experiences and was much better received than his opponent. Voters trusted him and they could tell he empathized with them and their troubles.

Looking for real world success and voter outreach

I think the party should look for a candidate with success in the real world, an individual who may or may not be involved in politics but not with a long career as an elected official, a person with a story of getting things done and with the mindset to work across the aisle. The individual would not see this as the Republican Senate seat for Maryland, but the Senate seat for all Marylanders.

A Republican can win statewide with a message that appeals to moderate Democrats and unaffiliated voters. In 2002 Bob Ehrlich was successful at this and last year Larry Hogan’s message was just as appealing to these key voter groups.

The Republican candidate cannot be viewed by Marylanders, particularly Democrats who don’t vote in primaries and unaffiliated voters, as the “regular” Republican candidate. Nationally voters are not enthusiastic about electing career politicians. Yes it happens at the federal level, but mostly because there are so many seats in the House that are either Democratic districts or Republican districts.

The Republican candidate must be willing to travel to areas of the state where Republicans often do not visit and voters must believe in the candidate and their message.

Statewide in Maryland, the political environment is always difficult for a Republican, but more so next year. The state will have had two years of observing how the legislature is working or not working with the Hogan Administration. President Obama may be able to put himself in better standing nationally as he blames the failure of his programs on the Republican majority.

The Republican Party will let this playout over the next couple of weeks and primary voters will decide the party nominees next year. However it is my opinion the Republican candidate who is identified as a successful business person or has had a successful career outside of politics, and someone with a vision for making government work by working together across the aisle will go a long way to helping the party field a strong candidate for the election in November of 2016.

Jim Burton is a pollster and consultant who was worked in public affairs and politics across the country.  In Maryland last year he worked with winning candidates for the state legislature and at the local level in Anne Arundel County, the Eastern Shore, and Howard County.  He can be reached at jimfburton@gmail.com or Twitter @jamescu1992.


  1. Franklin Moore

    There is only one Republican with the business and political clout and more importantly name recognition that could take this seat. EJ Pipkin. He moves back and picks up where he left off, the Republican stand a chance. Anyone else is just kidding themselves.

  2. amdactivist

    I think exposing the names of legislators that continually support illegal aliens *aka* New americans with our resources and jobs and those that continually propose stupid bills that cost us more money. We are overburdened and over taxed Md 4th highest taxed state per capita. *shameful* and #2 in foreclosures *heartbreaking*. More homeless and families separated then ever. . As a former swing voting democrat I see who in Annapolis continually supports Illegals and its not the republicans .We should be protesting them and expose their names. We should be exposing the names of business’s who hire nothing but Spanish speakers who can’t read write or speak English and are not citizens. Why do we have Spanish ballots? A criteria for being a U.S. citizen is the ability to Read, write & speak English so why Spanish ballots? Why have they been given a license to drive and why would democrat legislators vote down the photo voter id bill? EXPOSE!

  3. Voter

    I’ll vote for the one against sanctions on Cuba.

    • OldBut YoungMoney


  4. Jo_American

    I’m a Democrat and I voted for Gov. Hogan, because I like most Marylanders want positive change. I’d vote for Dan Bongino as he seems to be and honest broker who isn’t tainted by party allegiances. Server the people of MD not the party and you can go far.

    • OldBut YoungMoney

      Why are you a democrat? Moreover, I too voted for Hogan. I never thought we’d see a Republican as governor tbh, and I am Republican. So it came as a massive shock to me. This recent victory with Hogan makes me eager for a Republican to win the senate here. But I doubt it. I hope it can be done though, but I doubt it.

  5. Eric Brenner

    In an otherwise interesting story, Burton misses the key point that the job of Governor couldn’t be more different from US Senator. A conservative Dem. or open-minded Independent can easily vote for a Larry Hogan, assuming that as the chief executive he has the ability to govern based on the moderate polices he campaigned on. And if he moves too far to the right, the Dem. controlled legislature can limit the impact. As a US Senator you are one of 100, tethered to an increasingly polarized party leadership, that in the case of the Republicans wouldn’t look like the type of Republican candidate who has a chance of winning in Maryland. Connie Morella ultimately lost because of redistricting (not a factor in a Senate race) and the issue that however much her constituents liked her, she would still be a vote for the party leadership (Newt Gingrich) that is not aligned with her personal views. That situation is truer today than it was back then, handicapping even the best of the potential Republican nominees for the open Senate seat.

  6. Angie Boyter

    Jim Burton’s analysis makes a lot of sense, but the party and primary voters too often seem more interested in choosing someone whose party credentials are pure rather than someone who is electable. The Republican’s best hope is that the Democrats defeat themselves in the primary. Remember George P Mahoney?

  7. KatieSilverSpring

    I would disagree. Of course I am not a pollster or a consultant but I did work hard in the last 3 elections for the Maryland GOP candidates. What I saw in 2010 was a very strong Republican about to win the Governorship until he made a snarky remark about the TEA Party; his numbers went down and we got Martin O’Malley again. In 2012 a very strong candidate scared a rather weak incumbent Democrat senator; suddenly a GOP Primary-perennial came up with funds, staff to do a write-in to get on the ballot and Ben Cardin was reelected. But in 2014 a Republican gathered a strong campaign staff early on, stuck to his plan and defeated a Dem who was looked on as a shoo-in; we now have Gov. Larry Hogan.
    Yes, Marylanders are looking for something different. Yes, we are worn down with taxes and an oddly Progressive agenda in the General Assembly. But we’ve had not just almost-wins in Ehrlich and Bongino; we had wins right up to the final moments. The ONLY difference between the success of 2014 and the losses of 2010 and 2012 was a strong, committed and SAVVY campaign staff, a staff that knew their opponents and knew them well, who fought like their opponents.
    If the Maryland GOP wants to win the Senate and, I dare to say, CD 4 AND 8, even the Presidency in the state, they need to clone Steve Crim. I’ve heard him speak twice now since the election of Gov. Hogan and there is no doubt in my mind that his plan and his efforts are key to any future success, even in that gerrymandered-to-be-Dem, or as my illustrious Progressive State Senator describes his ideal district as, “proportional representation” in Congressional District 4.
    While what Jim Burton has written above is and has been the statistical norm for Maryland, he has not addressed the “new norm”. Those of us in Maryland’s Legislative District 20 face this at every election now, since 2006 when not only did we NOT reelect the Republican Governor but we gained a predominance of Progressives in the General Assembly and many local offices here. We live the Progressive Experiment. We suffer its gerrymandered reign, an advantage they gained while the Dem-liberals, who manipulated the redistricting for themselves, were not paying attention.
    We NEED campaigns that understand this, that understand the opposition now in power. It is no longer the Democrat liberal lighthanded, sometimes negotiating, politicians running for Maryland seats in government. And we need candidates with campaign staff who can tackle this.

    • MDPolitico

      For your Tea Party analysis to hold true, it would mean the Tea Party constituted 10% of the voters and ALL of them voted against Ehrlich/for O’Malley. I highly doubt this scenario. More realistically, O’Malley’s team quickly defined Ehrlich as a taxer and the definition stuck (remember, fees are taxes?). So in the default D vs R with both seen as taxers, the electorate reverts to D. It doesn’t matter if it’s not grounded in truth, it’s the perception that counted.

      Pocketbook issues coupled with good scenarios (weak D candidates, etc) are what give Rs a shot in Maryland. It’s how Sauerbrey almost won in ’98 on reducing income taxes (the MGA followed through, just not to the same level she advocated for). It’s part of Ehrlich’s recipe when KKT was seen as the tax-and-spend and he offered up slots in lieu of tax hikes to balance the budget deficits. It’s why Hogan won when his opponent supported the rain tax and was stuck with the O’Malley tax legacy.

      A precinct-by-precinct analysis shows you Bongino’s near-win had more to do with Hogan than it did with Bongino. His supporters may think otherwise, but as a candidate, he would be wise to study that dynamic, and study it hard.

      An R statewide for federal office is contending against the D candidate, but they’re also contending against the image people in the state have of the Republicans in Congress and Democrats in Congress. You can’t even make the balancing of power argument since it’s a Presidential year. And D turnout will likely be killer.

      The best shot is to hope for a moderate Republican, a nasty D primary that drains the presumptive D candidate’s funds (tough to refill coffers in a Presidential year), a series of mistakes by D, and a late surge for R Presidential candidate. Then you have an outside 40-60 shot at taking it. And it’s still uphill.

      • KatieSilverSpring

        Thank you but it wasn’t a TEA Party analysis; it was mine. People who identify as TEA Party are not registered as that, mostly as either Dems (as I was) or Republicans (as I am).
        Yours is interesting but I hope we never see moderates again.

        • mdpolitico

          You implied Ehrlich lost because of a slight against the Tea Party. My point was that for that to be true, those purporting to care enough to switch their votes based on the Tea Party would have to approach 10% of all voters AND presume they voted for O’Malley. There is no data to back this up and in fact, the polling data didn’t reflect it either at the time. It may have turned off some conservatives, but the chunk to constitute 10% of all voters? Yah, no chance.

          I’m not suggesting what I favor or don’t favor, I’m simply pointing out the political reality. You may not want moderates, but you’re not winning statewide on the back of a tea party-espousing Republican. It’s probably the most frustrating thing to watch is people exclaiming we’re not winning more because we’re espousing more conservative principles. We’re not winning statewide most of the time because we’re facing an entrenched political machine, a moderate left electorate, and often going against national prevailing winds. I mean, what, are you going to run to MoCo’s Republicans talking about reducing federal employee benefits? Half of them are federal employees.

          • KatieSilverSpring

            You missed my point. It is a strong, SAVVY, hardworking campaign team that gets you elected these days in this state. Gov. Hogan had and has just that. I worked LD20 & at the Rockville HQ for him in the General and went on to volunteer at the DNR Bldg in Annapolis on his Transition Team. These are people who know what has hit Maryland and how to recover from its (Progressives’) wake, to swim horizontal against the rip tide, survive, recover and regain this state.

            BTW, TEA Party means Taxed Enough Already. It is not an overall conservative grouping, certainly not on socially conservative matters. Gov. Hogan attracted TEA Party people who were Republicans, Democrats, Unaffiliated, for his stance on taxes, not just on general conservative issues. And, I worked for Ehrlich up to the concession speech. I do not believe any one should withhold their vote. Certainly not in these times. Come Nov 2016 it is for me straight R voting but I will work very hard in the Primary for another Hogan campaign candidate. Looking forward to clones of Steve Crim who knows how to run a campaign and win.