Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

C. Fraser Smith: Take the money and run

This just in: Larry Hogan is the underdog in the race for governor of Maryland.

You say you knew that? Of course, you did. It’s Maryland. Maryland votes Democrat. Hogan is a Republican.

But hear me out. We “know” things all the time, and then, voila, the things we know are verified in real life.

I refer to this week’s news that Hogan will take public financing in his race for governor against Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, the Democrat.

Some of my fellow pundits suggest Hogan’s decision is strategic: He doesn’t want anyone to think he’s controlled by right-wing givers from outside the state.

Friends, he may wish he had that problem.

The truth? He’s probably not getting much outside money — and sees little potential for improvement with big givers in Maryland or outside Maryland.

Brown, on the other hand, raised $12 million in the primary, and he’s out beating the bushes for more. Hogan will have $2.6 million from the state and as much as $3.7 million from party sources, a total of $6.3 million.

As I said earlier, Hogan is the underdog. That might be a kind way of putting it. Less kind: slim and none. Even high-rolling conservatives want to bet on someone who will be competitive.

The state of play for Hogan is an open secret: To varying degrees, Republicans and the even-handed media act as if there were actually a competitive race in the offing. With that assumption, they can find strategy beneath the surface of simple necessity.

Outside money is not similarly deluded. The marketplace of influence seekers knows Maryland well enough.

“The ‘market’ knows he can’t win,” says one Democratic follower of Maryland politics. “[These contributors] are voting with their dollars. Actually, my friend Larry knows it, too — but he’s going to have a good time with it anyway.”

Part of the good time will be pulling on superman’s cape: hammering at the issues in every way he can, including “free media.” The editorial page of The Baltimore Sun, for example.

Hogan said this yesterday in a letter to the editor:

“Unable to run on Maryland’s economy, jobs growth, tax rates, the health care rollout, his competence as an executive …” and so on.

In broadsides of this sort, Hogan will be defining himself as his party’s standard bearer. Republicans want to field a candidate who will carry the fight to the Democrat. It’s an important part of our system. As in football, the stats may make some teams certain winners, but you still have to play the game.

For example, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey was the underdog in 1994 when she took the public money. She came close to defeating then Prince George’s County executive Parris N. Glendening.

She and now Larry Hogan qualify as solid evidence for public financing in political campaigns. It makes the campaigns competitive — something the system always needs. Brown will have to respond to Hogan’s assertions as the campaign builds some momentum. Sauerbrey forced that kind of exchange 20 years ago.

There is, of course, irony in this.

The Republican Party has been no fan of public financing.

But, hey, if the money is there and you need it …

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is [email protected]