By Barry Rascovar
Did Republican Larry Hogan Jr.’s surprisingly large victory for governor last year blaze the path for a GOP upset in next year’s open seat for the U.S. Senate?
Probably not. Then again, politics is a mercurial business. Given the right circumstances, a longshot scenario might come true.
Lack of Hogan clone
The problem for Maryland’s GOP is that the presumptive candidates aren’t following the winning Hogan formula. They are very much right of center and outspoken in their conservatism. In liberal Maryland, that’s a distinct turn-off for general election voters.
To understand the state GOP’s dilemma, let’s first look at the reasons Hogan won:
- He stuck to a narrow, economic-driven campaign pitch — high taxes, overreaching government and politics as usual – and offered no details.
- He ignored bitterly divisive social issues, much to the discomfort of hard-nosed conservatives.
- He came across as Maryland’s “Happy Warrior” with a winning smile and demeanor.
- His opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, ran a dysfunctional campaign and turned off voters with his arrogance and aura of entitlement. Democratic voters stayed home.
It’s no secret that for a Republican to win statewide in Maryland, the Democrats really have to mess up. Did they ever in 2014.
It is entirely plausible Maryland Democrats once more will eat their own and wind up with a far-left candidate who alienates a large chunk of the state’s moderately liberal electorate.
That would set the stage for a strong Republican Senate challenge, backed by tens of millions of national GOP donor dollars.
But none of the names being floated are likely to resonate with dissatisfied Democratic voters and independents.
They are right-wing true believers who denigrate the kind of middle-road, non-ideological, problem-solving Maryland voters tend to favor.
Consider the individuals mentioned as possible GOP Senate candidates:
Bob Ehrlich. The former governor would win the primary in a cakewalk, but since he left office he’s moved more and more rightward into knee-jerk, pessimistic anti-Obamaism. His four years as governor disappointed Democrats and Republicans, he lost reelection and his attempt to recapture the office in 2010 proved an embarrassing flop, losing by nearly 15 percentage points. Portraying Ehrlich this time as a moderate Republican would be a stretch.
Andy Harris. The First District congressman is as far right ideologically as you can get and still be elected in Maryland. He can come across as arrogant and stridently sure of himself on just about any issue. A former state senator, Harris’ vocal and energetic conservatism might generate a backlash leading to heavy Democratic turnout on Election Day. He’s far from an ideal statewide candidate in Democratic Maryland. Besides, he’s got a lifetime seat in his House district that he’d have to give up.
Dan Bongino. The almost-congressman nearly upset Democratic Rep. John Delaney in a gerrymandered district that includes Western Maryland and portions of Montgomery County. He lost by less than 3,000 votes. Bongino also ran against U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin in 2012 and got clobbered, winning just a quarter of the votes. He’s charismatic and a former Secret Service agent. But he’s all conservative all the time. He’d have little drawing power outside of rural and exurban areas.
Michael Steele. The former lieutenant governor and GOP national chairman doesn’t have much to crow about other than espousing traditional conservative Republican themes. He lost badly, by 10 percentage points, when he ran for the Senate in 2006. He has no base beyond traditional GOP precincts and no credibility in Democratic strongholds.
Kendel Ehrlich. The other half of the Ehrlich team, she considered running for judge in Anne Arundel County and is not bashful about expressing her hard-edged conservative views. She’s never held elective office and has few credentials to promote. She’s much farther to the right in her political thinking than her husband.
That’s hardly an exciting list of contenders. There are too many retreads or not-ready-for-prime-time players. None of them fits the winning Hogan mold.
Still, the fate of the GOP primary winner may lie more in the hands of Democratic primary voters. Should Dems select another dud like Anthony Brown last year (or Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002), anything would be possible for Maryland Republicans.