Larry Hogan wants Donald Trump’s voters, but they might not want him

At a Timonium bar on Tuesday, the Patriot Club of America kicked off their monthly meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer.

The speaker asked the two dozen or so in attendance to pray for former President Donald Trump after a New York jury had just convicted him five days earlier on 34 charges of falsifying business records.

The truth will always be “crucified,” he said in closing.

Ahead of the verdict announcement, Larry Hogan, Maryland’s Republican Senate candidate and former governor, urged people on social media to accept the decision.

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Hogan’s tweet enraged members of Trump’s camp — including some Patriot Club Members. Many in this conservative-but-not-necessarily-Republican faction have long held frustrations with Hogan’s track record and his embattled history with Trump, so much so that they’re not going to put party first in November.

Trump supporter Mark Crosby of Towson attended a Patriot Club of America meeting June 4, 2024.
Trump supporter Mark Crosby of Towson attended a Patriot Club of America meeting June 4, 2024. (Brenda Wintrode)

They haven’t forgotten the lockdowns Hogan imposed as a global COVID-19 contagion raged without a vaccine or the shoddy COVID-19 tests Hogan purchased from South Korea, and they haven’t forgotten how he wrote in his father’s name and former President Ronald Reagan instead of voting for Trump.

In return, one woman said she’ll write in her dog’s name for Senate; an older man said he’s writing in Trump.

“Absolutely not. I would never think of it,” 74-year old Towson resident Mark Crosby said of voting for Hogan. The retired home improvement contractor said he’s turned off by Hogan “bashing” his presidential pick.

Hogan has twice won a majority of Maryland voters. This time — for the first time — Trump and Hogan share a ballot in an awkward three-legged race toward November.

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Hogan maintains crossover appeal with Democrats and may not need the support of Trump-loving conservatives like Crosby to win a third statewide race. But with Senate control on the line this year, Democrats could have second thoughts about a Hogan vote. So after years of Hogan criticizing the former president the fewer conservative votes lost to the dogs, the better Hogan’s chances.

Local reputation meets national politics

Campaigning for a Senate seat will be different from running for governor, said Mileah Kromer, the director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics and an associate professor of political science at Goucher College. Kromer wrote a book on Hogan’s bipartisan state victories.

In a Senate contest voters will weigh Hogan as one of 100 lawmakers, not as an individual.

“He has to run as a member of a party,” she said. “Rather than the more individualized nature of an executive.”

That raises a challenge for Hogan, who is trying to attract a broad spectrum of voters, forcing him to navigate — and dodge — the political messaging of both national parties, she said.

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Adding to the difficulty, Republicans face a steep cliff if they try to win in Maryland without bridging the partisan divide. Since 2010, GOP candidates for statewide offices and president have averaged just 36.7% of the vote, according to elections board records. Hogan was the anomaly. There are just not enough Republicans.

Appealing to Democrats “is far more mathematically important” to Hogan’s winning than appeasing Trump Republicans, Kromer said.

“What does full-throated support from the Republican base give you?” Kromer asked. “A 30-point loss.”

‘Republicans … will want to win’

Hogan acknowledged that he is attempting to appeal to disparate political interests within his own party as well as outside of it, and has said he needs strong Republican support if he’s going to have a chance of winning the seat.

“Only 23% of our state is Republican, so we’ve got to win nearly all of them, and nearly all of the independents, and then about 30% of the Democrats,” Hogan said in a radio interview late last month.

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“I hope they understand that we can’t run a campaign just geared toward the base.”

To that end, he’s staked out new positions on women’s reproductive rights — announcing last month he’ll support abortions up to 26 weeks of pregnancy after previously avoiding the question — and has come out in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

It’s not clear how the moves will play with Democrats; however, conservatives and moderate Republicans alike say they’re willing to overlook Hogan’s shapeshifting to win back the Senate.

Maryland state Sen. Christopher West said he’s glad Hogan “searched his soul” on the divisive abortion issue and has arrived at a centrist position that he said aligns “with the vast majority of people in Maryland.” The Baltimore County Republican believes his fellow GOP members will also “search their souls” and put party first.

“The vast majority of Republicans, when push comes to shove, will want to win,” he said.

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Bridging any rift between Trump supporters and Hogan supporters will be a key focus for the Maryland Republican Party this year, state party chair Nicole Beus Harris said in May.

“There is a portion of Maryland Republicans who are die-hard Trump and ‘never Hogan,’ and people who are die-hard Hogan and ‘never Trump.’ ” she said. “And there’s a good portion of Republicans who will fill out the middle. … People think you have to be in one camp or the other in the Republican Party, but there is crossover.”

Two years ago in a proxy war fought during the gubernatorial primary, a Trump-backed candidate defeated Hogan’s chosen successor. Whether Trump directly attacks Hogan this fall could also make it more difficult for state Republicans to keep the flock together.

Patriot Club of America President and Baltimore County resident Jeffry K. McDonald said the onus is on Hogan, citing President Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not talk negatively about a fellow Republican.”

“I just don’t know why Republicans constantly attack each other,” he said, adding he won’t vote for Hogan.

Kent County Republican Shawn Poulson said he believes the members of the state party are on the same page and have “made room for Hogan.” They’re willing to embrace what they do agree with and put aside the rest for the sake of taking back the Senate. While some holdouts may skip a Hogan vote for his position on abortion rights, that’s not everyone, the 47-year-old software developer said.

“Thoughtful Republicans understand that you can like two candidates that are very different,” said Baltimore County Del. Kathy Szeliga. Szeliga was the last Republican to run for an open Senate seat in 2016, winning 35.7% of the vote.

Dan Cuda, a Montgomery County Republican, agreed with Hogan’s call to have faith in the country’s legal process, which may include an eventual appeal in Trump’s case. The semi-retired defense contractor said he believes the country is better off “maintaining some confidence in our institutions.”

However, one of Hogan’s most agile political strengths, appealing to moderate voters across party lines, may just have become a drawback within a Trump-led Republican party.

“He’s a man in the political middle,” he said. “And that’s always a hard place to be because you get hit by both sides.”

Baltimore Banner reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

Brenda Wintrode covers state government, agencies and politics. Before joining The Baltimore Banner, Wintrode wrote an award winning series of long form investigations for Wisconsin Watch.

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