Explaining Governor Hogan’s hold on Maryland

By ALEX WALINSKAS | October 4, 2018

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COURTESY OF NATE PESCE/Cc BY-SA 2.0

Larry Hogan has managed to appeal to Marylanders throughout him time as the state’s Governor.

When it comes to taking a stance on big policy issues, Larry Hogan is no liberal. But in a state dominated by Democrat voters, Hogan has maintained an outstanding approval rate. With midterms quickly approaching, he holds a 16-point lead against Democratic challenger Ben Jealous. If re-elected, Hogan will be the first Republican governor to serve a second term in 60 years. 

How has Larry Hogan triumphed in such a liberal state, and why can’t Ben Jealous break through? Perhaps antithetical to our nation’s political trends, the answer lies in the status quo. Compared to the political shake-ups happening on both the left and right, Governor Hogan offers a brand of moderation and predictability that caters to Marylanders on both sides of the aisle. 

In his first four-year term as governor, Hogan has kept constituents happy in three key areas: the economy, taxes and transportation. He’s shown the ability to develop bipartisan legislation that voters like, including this spring’s bill for free community college that echoes the leanings of progressive Jealous.

Beating a popular incumbent is hard, no matter who you are. But it doesn’t help Jealous that Hogan’s campaign has more money — like, a lot more money ($9.4 million versus $386,000). To the chagrin of progressive candidates trying to run a grassroots campaign, money matters. In the case of Jealous, Hogan’s fruitful campaign funds are especially damaging. 

Jealous, a former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), embraces the policies and philosophy of a pragmatic progressive. Yet Hogan’s campaign, aided by plenty of TV time and advertisements, has painted the Democrat as a radical. 

Hogan clearly aims to portray Jealous as a utopian socialist candidate whose policies will be far too expensive for the state. Despite the common narrative of a progressive “blue wave,” establishment candidates are actually faring better in the primaries so far. 

Hogan’s distance from President Trump is also helping him move toward re-election. Midterms have been called as a “referendum on the presidency,” meaning Americans often cast their vote based on feelings about the president. With Trump’s approval rating low, Republicans can expect to lose seats to Democrats. But Hogan has refused to embrace Trump and his ideology, a strategy that’s been successful with both of Maryland’s parties. 

With Hogan leading, who should we look to as Jealous’ supporters? Baltimore City is a main hub of voter support, reflected by an endorsement from The Baltimore Sun. And while it may not help on the local level, Jealous has pulled public support from political figureheads like Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Jealous is still polling with more Democrat votes than Hogan but not by a large enough margin to lead.

The power of a successful incumbency is illustrated by a recent Goucher poll. Most Marylanders support the policies that Jealous is touting: a significantly higher minimum wage, legalized marijuana and a shift to a universal healthcare system. 

Despite Governor Hogan’s failure to embrace these progressive views, Marylanders — including many Democrats — are still supporting him this November. Marylanders may have a vision for progress, but they’re also evidently content enough with what’s being given to them right now. 

Polling indicates election outcomes, but national (or local) events in the next month always have the potential to sway an election. As the Kavanaugh hearings (and now the Kavanaugh investigation) continue, voters could use the ballot as a politically-charged response. But that could go in either Hogan or Jealous’ favor, depending on which party frustrates folks most.

Voter turnout in November inevitably determines who wins, too. Even if Jealous loses to Governor Hogan, it will be worthwhile to see whether he can mobilize groups of voters that are historically underrepresented at the polling booth, such as African Americans. 

Despite Jealous’ increasingly difficult chances of a win, we should look at his nomination as a sign of hope for the future. His win in the primaries means Maryland has the chance of electing its first black governor. His policy stances are part of a broader coalition of progressive liberals across the nation, who have already had groundbreaking wins in the months leading up to general elections.

Maryland may stick with the status quo this November, but it doesn’t mean the rest of the nation will, too. 

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