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Larry Hogan Wants To Do the ‘Impossible’ Three Times in a Row
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Larry Hogan Wants To Do the ‘Impossible’ Three Times in a Row

The former Maryland governor faces a tough race to win the state’s open Senate seat.

Larry Hogan, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Maryland, greets supporters before casting his ballot in the state primary election at Davidsonville Elementary School on May 14, 2024, in Davidsonville, Maryland. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

GLEN BURNIE, Maryland—Incumbent Republican congressmen are retiring in droves amid frustration with their dysfunctional House majority. Three of the most prominent bipartisan dealmakers in the Senate—Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Mitt Romney of Utah—decided to head for the exits rather than be purged in their respective primary elections or face likely defeat in November. 

Against this backdrop, why on earth did Larry Hogan, the moderate Republican former governor of Maryland, decide to run for the United States Senate in 2024? 

“It’s funny,” Hogan told The Dispatch last week while sitting on a bench outside a florist shop after a full day campaigning at small businesses. “My close friends actually said, ‘I had no idea you were going to run for the Senate.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I had no idea either.’ It literally was a last minute kind of reversal of position. I had been saying for more than two years that I wasn’t interested.”

An executive at heart, Hogan had rebuffed pleas from Republicans to run for Senate for years because he said he viewed the job as “arguing all day and getting nothing done.” But days before Maryland’s February 9 Senate filing deadline, he was in a meeting in New York City with officials from No Labels, the centrist political group that had hoped to field a presidential ticket this year. They were “asking me to be their candidate for president, and were showing me polls and modeling and whatnot that showed we could run a pretty good race,” Hogan said of the meeting. “I think I started at 23 percent with Biden and Trump in the high 20s.”

The pitch was tempting, but while he was still in New York, he received an influential call from former President George W. Bush. “I just don’t think you can win,” Bush said of a potential No Labels presidential bid, according to Hogan. “I think you can’t get to 270 [electoral votes].” 

But the former Republican president urged Hogan to consider a bid for the Senate. “You can make a bigger difference than you think,” Hogan remembers Bush saying. “I never really wanted to be a senator. I know you don’t want to be one either, but I think the party needs you and the country needs you. You’ve got an important voice. I think it’ll give you a platform for that voice.” 

Hogan said he doubted he could accomplish much, but Bush disagreed: “I think you’re going to be the guy in the middle of every deal. You’re going to be like a Joe Manchin or a John McCain.” 

Hogan concluded he shouldn’t run for president. “I didn’t want to be a spoiler for anybody. I didn’t want to help enable Donald Trump or Joe Biden,” he told The Dispatch

Two nights after the No Labels meeting, Hogan said he was “actually tossing and turning at night” as he contemplated a run for Senate. The collapse that week of a bipartisan deal in the Senate to reform border policy and provide aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan “was sort of like a turning point,” Hogan said. “Trump said, ‘Don’t do it, don’t vote for it.’ So everybody changed their position.” 

Hogan says that’s what propelled him to change his mind. “This is such B.S.,” Hogan recalled thinking. “They need some grown-ups down there. I think I can go down and kind of talk some sense into people where we get some things done.” With his wife’s blessing, Hogan filed to run for Senate hours before the Friday filing deadline in the race to replace retiring Democrat Ben Cardin. 

Despite his popularity as governor—Hogan left office in January 2023 with an approval rating in the high 70s—it would be an understatement to say that Hogan has his work cut out for himself in November. In 2020, Trump lost Maryland by 33 points, making the state a slightly deeper shade of blue than California, which Trump lost by 29 points. One way to think about Hogan’s task in 2024 is that even if he were to win every Maryland Trump voter, he would then need at least one out of every four Biden voters to back him to defeat Democratic candidate Angela Alsobrooks, currently the executive of Prince George’s County.

Of course, it’s unlikely that every Marylander voting for Trump will cast a ballot for Hogan in November given the friction between the two. In February 2021, Hogan said he would have voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial had he been in the Senate. And last month, shortly before a Manhattan jury announced its guilty verdict in the trial about Trump’s falsification of business records to cover up an affair, Hogan wrote on X: “Regardless of the result, I urge all Americans to respect the verdict and the legal process. At this dangerously divided moment in our history, all leaders—regardless of party—must not pour fuel on the fire with more toxic partisanship. We must reaffirm what has made this nation great: the rule of law.” 

The condemnation from Trumpworld came swiftly, with Trump senior adviser Chris LaCivita replying: “You just ended your campaign.” Lara Trump, Republican National Committee co-chair and Trump daughter-in-law, later said on CNN that Hogan “doesn’t deserve the respect of anyone in the Republican Party.”

Still, Senate Republicans of all stripes have said they’re hoping for a Hogan victory, and when Trump himself visited Senate Republicans last Thursday, he agreed with the sentiment. “I’d like to see him win,” Trump told Fox News’ Aishah Hasnie. “We got to take the majority.” The Hogan campaign replied: “Governor Hogan has been clear he is not supporting Donald Trump just as he didn’t in 2016 and 2020.”

It would be quite surprising if a Hogan victory is the one that gives Republicans a majority in the Senate simply because it’s hard to imagine a national political environment in which Maryland votes Republican and Montana—a Trump +16 state in 2020—retains incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. But by providing Republicans with a 52nd or 53rd seat, Hogan could dim Democratic hopes of a filibuster-proof Senate over his six-year term. 

While Alsobrooks is campaigning to “abolish” the 60-vote rule, Hogan believes “we absolutely ought to keep it,” he told The Dispatch. “The filibuster requires you to persuade people and to find compromise and reach that middle ground, which I think is a good thing,” Hogan said. Without the filibuster, Hogan warned the country would be “swinging back and forth every four years with crazy policy.”

The filibuster is just one matter of many on which Hogan distinguishes himself from Alsobrooks. “I think we’re different on almost every single issue,” he said. Asked to name key differences, Hogan focused on spending and crime. “We left the state in the best fiscal shape it’s been in years,” Hogan said, but “both Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland are now being downgraded, put on a threat advisory, because they’re going too far in debt, spending too much money, and spending beyond their means.” (While the county and state have not lost their AAA bond-rating status, Moody’s recently revised its “outlook” for Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland from stable to negative.)

Alsobrooks “slashed police budgets in Prince George’s County,” Hogan said, adding that the county is experiencing a shortage of hundreds of police officers. “The crime is completely out of control. Murders have doubled under her watch. Carjackings are up 600 percent. She’s very soft on crime. I’m very tough on crime. I pushed tougher sentences for repeat violent offenders and people that commit felonies with a handgun. She was not in favor of that.”

Alsobrooks campaign communications director Gina Ford defended the candidate’s record on crime and economics: “As county executive, Angela increased the police department’s budget by 22 percent over her tenure,” she said in a statement to The Dispatch. “And when she was the chief law enforcement official, Angela Alsobrooks oversaw a massive 50 percent decrease in violent crime.” As for her economic record, Ford said that under Alsobrooks, “Prince George’s has become a top job creator in Maryland and the home to the most new businesses of any Maryland county.” Ford noted the county had secured new the FBI headquarters under Alsobrooks (something Hogan also lobbied for as governor).

On social issues, Hogan is running as a liberal and trying hard to differentiate himself from almost all congressional Republicans by endorsing a federal bill to codify Roe v. Wade. Yet even there he has also drawn a contrast with Alsobrooks. Shortly after the primary concluded on May 14, Hogan told the New York Times he backs federal abortion legislation to codify Roe sponsored by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine but does not support the Women’s Health Protection Act, legislation backed by Alsobrooks and every Senate Democrat except Joe Manchin of West Virginia, because it would prohibit even modest state limits on abortion allowed under Roe.

Asked if he had any tests for Supreme Court nominees, Hogan told The Dispatch: “I don’t believe in litmus tests, but I have more experience appointing judges than anybody in the Senate.” Hogan said that as governor, he appointed nearly 200 judges, “including six out of the seven members of our Supreme Court. Three of them I appointed were women, two of them African American women.” 

“I took every one of [the judicial nominations] completely seriously,” he added. “I never asked someone to prejudge—tell me how you might decide on this future case that might come before you.”

Hogan has campaigned on holding whichever presidential candidate wins accountable. “One of the things I have a reputation for is being very blunt and very direct and that I don’t have any problems whatsoever standing up and saying when I disagree with somebody where I think something’s wrong,” Hogan said. “And I have a 10-year track record of standing up to Trump and Biden and the Democrats and the Republicans.” 

Alsobrooks, by contrast, would be “a rubber stamp for the Biden administration,” he added.

But in a state as blue as Maryland, which hasn’t elected a Republican senator since 1980, it’s plausible a majority of voters may very well want a guaranteed vote for the Democratic agenda. “If people decide that all they care about is keeping Democrats in charge of the Senate, then I’m probably not going to win,” Hogan said. But “if they’re fed up with Washington and politics as usual, I’m convinced that we’re going to pick up not only Republicans and independents, but a whole lot of Democrats like we did in the last two races.”

Hogan won his first race for governor by 4 points in the 2014 red wave and managed to win reelection by 12 points in the 2018 blue wave, becoming only the second Republican governor the state has reelected. “The first time I ran it was the biggest surprise upset in America,” Hogan told The Dispatch. “They said it was impossible. We’ve done the impossible twice already. I just have to do it three times in a row.”

If Hogan does win, it will be due in no small part to the fact that many voters simply like him and his record. On the campaign trail last week, Hogan moved with ease as he began the day touring and speaking to factory workers at Marlin Steel in Baltimore. “If this Senate thing doesn’t work out, I might learn how to weld,” he said. Over lunch at the Essen Room, a Jewish deli in Pikesville, he was mobbed by supporters. After our interview outside WildFlower florist shop in Glen Burnie, a man approached Hogan to shake his hand as if he were a rock star.  

“He’s a great man,” Carlos Suncar of Silver Spring told The Dispatch. “I like everything.” Suncar, who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1989, characterized Biden as too soft on immigration and Trump too tough. When it comes to the top of the ticket, “I think I’m going to leave that box empty because I don’t like Biden, I don’t like Trump, so I’m only going to vote for senator, Mr. Hogan.”

John McCormack is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was Washington correspondent at National Review and a senior writer at The Weekly Standard. When John is not reporting on politics and policy, he is probably enjoying life with his wife in northern Virginia or having fun visiting family in Wisconsin.