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C. Fraser Smith: Too early to re-inaugurate Hogan

So, according to my old newspaper, the state house is Larry Hogan’s to lose.

Wait.  He’s barely been in office a year and already he’s a lock for a second term?

Is Maryland shifting dramatically away from its Democratic predictability? Is there something more fundamental afoot?

Just the Hogan part of the equation is certainly striking. According to the reliable Goucher Poll, the Republican governor enjoys a 58 percent approval rating in Democratic Maryland, thought to be one of the bluest states in the union.

Or maybe the color is fading. Hogan, himself, thinks it. He thinks he is the change – or evidence of the change. He beat the Democratic candidate handily. And he seemed to gauge the voters’ mood quite accurately.

He won by personifying voter anger with taxes and government spending. He won because his opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, had no effective response to the thrumming assertion that Brown and Gov. Martin O’Malley had raised taxes dozens of times. Brown failed to parry. And he seemed unwilling to run on the record of his partner. His campaign’s near silence almost validated Hogan’s argument.

(The Goucher Poll also finds now-presidential candidate O’Malley with only 2 percent support in Maryland, his home state. Two percent? He won re-election in 2008 with 14 percent more of the vote than the then-incumbent, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. )

But the Goucher Poll begins to address a question that arises after the last election: Was the result merely occasioned by a poor Democratic candidate as it was when, in 2002, Republican Ehrlich  defeated Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Hard to say definitively. Townsend ran a poor campaign as did Brown.

Hogan, the poll suggests, has consolidated his win by keeping the focus on lowering taxes and fees – and on economic development. He’s stayed as far away as possible from issues like gay marriage and the death penalty and legalizing marijuana – all of which the Democrats under O’Malley laid to rest.

Shrewd and disciplined – non-ideological – and even governmental, Hogan seems to be charting a course with second-term potential.

And yet, we are barely into his four-year term. Democrats will not stand down. If there is a way to unmask his harder-line political self, you will be reading about it.

One Democratic officeholder suggests Ehrlich’s own party may become a big problem for him. Two GOP delegates have urged him to defund Planned Parenthood. And the Montgomery County wing of his party has shifted two early voting locations to parts of the county with fewer minority voters – something that could be called a subtle voter-suppression move. But, again, it’s early.

It’s a bit of an old saw, but voters tend more toward candidates they like – would enjoy having a beer with. Or, as Donald Trump seems to think, they move to angry, frustrated people, people who dare to demonize government as we know, government that gives 15 or 20 years of no pay increase.

There’s the “I get it” factor. Hogan had run for office before. He lost, but apparently he learned. While Anthony Brown was cutting ribbons (a lieutenant governor’s job), Hogan was listening to voters. Many observers fell back on history: Democrats win in Maryland. They have the registered voter edge. They’re good at organizing. Most of the state’s elected voters are Democrats.

All true. But the historically winning party still has to find a winning chemistry – issues, to be sure. But what about an attractive candidate, a candidate who gets it.

There is, of course, another old saw: You can’t beat somebody with nobody.

C. Fraser Smith is host of Inside Maryland Politics on WYPR. His column runs Fridays at The Daily Record. His email is fsmith@wypr.org. 

    

 


One comment

  1. rowbci@registers.maryland.gov

    Ehrlich defeated KKT in 2002, not 2004, as stated in your Op-Ed