Will Hogan be a hero in Maryland Senate race?

CUMBERLAND — It is just after noon on Friday, and the snow, ice, and freezing rain has been pounding the western end of the state since the night before. Still, the torrid weather has done little to cause former Maryland governor Larry Hogan to be late to any of his stops on the first of his three-day campaign bus tour officially kicking off his run for the U.S. Senate.

After early morning visits to a coffeehouse in Oakland, a fulfillment center in Grantsville, and the industrial construction company Beitzel Corporation, the Republican Hogan pulls up to the Western Maryland Works tucked along a stream by an industrial park in suburban Cumberland.

He is greeted warmly by the community college students all working in different trades, from welding to carpentry to computer design and more, to discuss their decision to go into the trades rather than pursue a four-year degree.

CUMBERLAND — Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan kicked off his statewide bus tour in support of his U.S. Senate campaign last weekend at the Western Maryland Works trade school. He talked to students and instructors about the importance of sealing the skills gap in our economy. (Salena Zito)

The answers range from interest in working with their hands to a realization that there was a true skills gap for job opportunities near home, to not wanting to go into debt at a young age.

Gary Taylor shows Hogan a stunning maple kitchen countertop with an indigo-blue vein throughout the piece. Students are creating it here for a surgeon at the local hospital.

Taylor says he voted for Hogan twice for governor and will again come November. “I am so glad he is running,” he said. “He is a once-in-a-lifetime public servant who understands the importance of showing up and good governing.”

Taylor said he has no interest where Hogan stands on former President Donald Trump or President Joe Biden: “I just care about what he wants to do in the U.S. Senate and if he brings sanity to Washington.”

Hogan needs a groundswell of voters like Taylor, who have little interest in the drama of daily politics, but who expect good governing and want someone who pays as much attention to the least populous part of the state as to the most crowded.

CUMBERLAND — Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s bus from his statewide tour in support of his U.S. Senate campaign last weekend at the Western Maryland Works trade school. (Salena Zito)

In his campaign bus after the community college visit, Hogan said after his eight-year tenure as governor, he initially had no plans to run for office again.

“It was not a lifelong ambition to be a United States Senator,” Hogan said.

He said he felt like part of the frustrated majority of Americans fed up with politics as usual in Washington, D.C., “And I didn’t really want to be a part of the divisiveness or dysfunction. It seems like it’s crazy down there. It seems like there’s nothing but the loudest, angriest voices get all the attention and they never get anything done. It’s all gridlocked.”

“The people that say, ‘hey, we want to solve problems. We want to work together to fix things for people’ they don’t get any attention,” Hogan lamented, adding, “So it wasn’t that I all of a sudden decided I want to be part of all that.”

Two years ago when he was leaving the governor’s office, he said he heard from a lot of Marylanders who wanted him to run for office again, to take his pragmatism to D.C. but he admits he brushed it off.

Hogan also brushed off a run for president for the No Labels organization. In January he stepped down from his position as co-chair of the third-party movement that ultimately failed to field a ticket this year for president.

CUMBERLAND — Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan poses with a group during his statewide bus tour in support of his U.S. Senate campaign last weekend at the Western Maryland Works trade school. (Salena Zito)

“I was fairly comfortable being out of office, and I was spending more time with my family, and I was less stressed, but I was frustrated watching everything going on in Washington,” he said.

Hogan explained he fielded calls from former president George W. Bush, former Vice President Mike Pence, and other senators, who stressed to him it was important for the country that he run for the senate.

They also stressed it was important for the Republican Party.

Still, he said he remained unmoved until his wife, Yumi, broached the subject.

“Sometimes I don’t always listen to my wife, like most husbands, but she said, ‘it’s probably better for us if you don’t run, but it’s not just about us. It’s about our kids and grandkids and what kind of a future we leave for them,’” she told him. “She said, ‘I know you. You’re not going to be satisfied if you’re just sitting there yelling at the TV and you think you can make a difference and you didn’t try to step up.”

Hogan said he turned to her and said, “Oh man, you too.”

So with only two days remaining before the filing deadline, he decided to run. “There was no plan,” he said. “It was not like months or years of, oh wow, I’m going to be a senator one day.”

Hogan said he understands why good people don’t step up and run, why they don’t put it all the line: Politics in America has gone from a blood sport to a massacre of someone’s life and character.

“The reason I had to go do it [was] because so many good people were walking away, and other people who would be great public servants are saying ‘No way in hell am I going through that. I don’t want to be part of that. I don’t want to be attacked. I don’t want to go crazy.”

“There are some good public servants, frankly, on both sides of the aisle,” he said, “who are fleeing in disgust because they can’t get anything done and everyone’s fleeing the building. And here I am running into the building that I didn’t really even want to be in. Because I felt like if I don’t, who will?” he said.

The Republican Hogan led the heavily Democratic state for two terms, leaving office in January of 2023 with a whopping 77% approval rating, according to Gonzales Research & Media Services. Amazingly, his rating among Democrats was even higher, at 81%.

And even for a job seen more through a national ideological lens, Hogan is holding his own.

An Emerson College survey conducted just after Hogan’s surprise announcement last month for the U.S. Senate race showed Hogan tied with Democratic Rep. David Trone, at 42%. Hogan holds a seven-point lead, 44-37, in a hypothetical matchup against County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, the other Democrat in the race.

Trone and Alsobrooks will face off in the May 14 Democratic primary.

The last Republican to win a U.S. Senate race in Maryland was Charles Mathias, way back in 1980.

Despite Hogan’s strong approval rating leaving office and doing well in early polls, both Republican and Democratic strategists said running for governor is very different than running for Senate and, in the end, will be driven by national politics.

Hogan smiles and basically says, “Hold my beer.”

“My success in Maryland, which is the bluest state and one of the most diverse states in the country, we are a majority-minority state with a large black population, Hispanic population and Asian population … proved that what your race is or where you were born or what kind of place you grew up in or what your job is does not have to be a determining factor in how you vote,” he said.

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“Experts assume all of these different kinds of people are going to vote one way based on race or where they live, and we broke that mold by saying no. Not only did I do get huge numbers in rural Maryland, but I did better than any Republican ever with black voters and suburban women,” he said.

Hogan’s 10-day bus tour concludes Friday. Meanwhile, his campaign reported an impressive $3.1 fundraising haul after entering the race already halfway through the first official reporting period. This is looking like a very competitive race.

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