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Through the wins and losses, Hogan remains the ‘everyman’ governor

Gov. Larry Hogan talks to reporters on the last day of the state’s legislative session on Monday in Annapolis. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

In the hours before the end of the 2022 legislative session, Gov. Larry Hogan traveled to Baltimore. A governor attending the Orioles home opener isn’t all that unusual.

But Hogan, surrounded by orange-and-black-clad fans chanting his name, did something that might seem surprising. He chugged a beer.

For some executives, the video making the rounds on social media Monday might have induced a cringe. There was little if any backlash for Maryland’s second-term Republican governor.

Chugging a beer on social media isn’t an everyday activity for Hogan. It is, however,  the extension of an approachable personal brand cultivated over a decade.

“I think that the governor has worked really hard over the last eight years to bolster this ‘everyman image,'” said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College and director of the statewide Goucher Poll.

“He’s consistently on brand. Consistently on message,” said Kromer. “Always thinking about the way the governor is portrayed in the media.”

Hogan has consistently enjoyed sky-high approval ratings for a typical governor. Those poll numbers are made all the more astounding because he is a Republican in heavily Democratic Maryland, and those numbers have endured deep into the last months of his second term.

Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Hogan’s personal brand grew when he announced he was undergoing treatment in 2015 for an aggressive blood cancer.

“That connected him with voters in a very real way,” said Eberly. “He’s just given them glimpses into his life and I think voters have responded positively to it. I would say downing a beer on opening day is fully in line with it.”

Part of that brand includes some split personality when it comes to the General Assembly.

Hogan has been, to some degree, disdainful of the legislature. He makes no secret of his interest in traveling outside of the capital city when 188 lawmakers descend on the State House. He once compared the 90-day session to rowdy college students on spring break.

“We have a couple of things to be excited for: opening day for the Orioles and closing day for the legislature,” Hogan told reporters Monday after returning from Camden Yards.

“We didn’t agree on everything, but I want to thank our colleagues in the legislature for the hard work they put in over the past 90-days,” the governor said. “Our work continues for the next nine months while they leave town.”

He will also praise the legislature for working in a bipartisan fashion even when his priorities return diluted to some degree.

“I think it was our best session yet,” said Hogan. “We were successful in accomplishing nearly everything we wanted to accomplish.”

The victory list

Counted among the accomplishments is a tax cut for some retirees. The compromise, part of a larger nearly $2 billion package, was not the complete elimination of income taxes on retirees that Hogan sought for years and believed was doable now because of an historic $7.5 billion surplus.

And while the governor got a partial loaf on one of his top priorities, his crime bills again died in the legislature.

“My success is not based on getting legislation passed, but we did come together to get a lot done,” Hogan said.

Hogan also declared victory on what he called “the worst gerrymandered (congressional) maps in the country.”

The victory is not exactly as Hogan portrays.

A court decision forced changes to the map, making the eight districts smaller and more compact. In the end, a novel application of the state constitution on congressional maps was never codified by the Court of Appeals.

The skirmish won this year will likely be more of a guideline than a rule in 10 years. Democrats hope by that time the 2022 court order will be relegated to history while a Democratic governor and majority party legislature go back to drawing maps that favor candidates from their party.

The governor also again failed to sustain vetoes on key issues, including a bill that expands the number of health care professionals that could be trained and licensed to perform abortions.

“Hogan has taken these legislative losses — he has been overridden — but he doesn’t dwell on them,” said Kromer. “He takes the loss for one day. He gets his vetoes overridden and the next day he’s ready to move on from it.”

Hogan’s two electoral victories in 2014 and 2018 — a bad year for Republicans in Maryland and nationally — may be another piece of Hogan’s legacy.

“In Maryland, he created a broad, racially diverse coalition with real ideological diversity,” said Kromer. “The Hogan coalition is a pathway for Republicans to have majoritarian rule.”

Hogan is coy about his future plans saying he plans to “run through the tape” of his term that ends in January. Meanwhile, he’s clearly laying the groundwork that could keep his options open.

“He’s doing the initial steps everybody takes before they start to consider a presidential run,” said Kromer.

The Republican Party, however, is very different today, forged by President Donald Trump. Hogan has cut a path away from Trump, openly criticizing the former president at times. Hogan voted for his dad in 2020 instead of Trump.

“There was a time, a couple of decades ago, when a popular Republican governor of a blue state would be viewed as the absolute perfect presidential nominee for a party,” said Eberly. “Now, because he’s clearly defined himself as being part of the establishment rather than the Trump wing of the party, the likelihood of being able to get a national nomination is diminished.”

Not just ‘his’ legacy

Hogan’s legacy will also be tested in Maryland in the coming months. He has endorsed Kelly Schulz, his former commerce secretary, over other Republicans, including Dan Cox.

“It’s not Larry’s legacy alone,” said Kromer, noting that helping get Schulz elected or perhaps be competitive would have an impact that exceeds former Gov. Martin O’Malley, who failed to get Anthony Brown, his lieutenant governor, elected in 2014.

Cox, who has been endorsed by Trump, organized bus trips to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and called Vice President Mike Pence a “traitor.” He ultimately issued an apology to his legislative colleagues.

Hogan has openly criticized  Cox as a “QAnon conspiracy theorist,” a reference to the fringe movement that, according to the Associated Press and others, claims former President Trump is waged a secret battle against the “deep state” and a sect of powerful devil-worshipping pedophiles who dominate Hollywood, big business, the media and government.

It is unclear how much Hogan can help Schulz or any other Republican. In 2018, Hogan won a resounding victory over Democrat Ben Jealous in the governor’s race. In that same year, Maryland voters, overwhelmingly Democrat, took out their anger at Trump on nearly every incumbent Republican County executive while the party took losses in the General Assembly.

“2018 demonstrated that many Marylanders viewed Hogan not as a Republican and they viewed Republicans as Republicans and they got punished for Donald Trump but Hogan didn’t,” said Eberly. “For him to have coattails, some of his glow has to shine onto Republican candidates running for other offices. That clearly wasn’t the case in 2018.”

Kromer said the coming election could further define Hogan’s impact in Maryland.

“If Hogan can help Kelly Schulz get across the finish line, that’s a legacy,” she said.