Republican Larry Hogan kicks off campaign for Md. governor

Larry Hogan, the newest entrant in the Republican primary for Maryland governor, kicked off his campaign Wednesday with a boisterous rally at an Annapolis area crab house and the announcement of a running mate.

Hogan tapped Boyd Rutherford, a fellow Cabinet secretary under then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), as his candidate for lieutenant governor. Together, they promised to take state government in a new direction, ending seven years of tax increases and policies they characterized as hostile to businesses.

“Job one will be to get the government off our backs and out of our pocketbooks so we can grow the private sector, put people back to work and turn our economy around,” Hogan told a crowd that included several other members of the Ehrlich administration.

Like others in the Republican field, some of whom have been running since the summer, Hogan faces a steep climb in a state where Democrats hold a more than 2-to-1 advantage in party registration.

But Hogan, the leader of the watchdog group Change Maryland, contends that voters are eager to try something different as the tenure of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) draws to a close.

Hogan said that pundits have falsely characterized the race as a choice between two leading Democrats: Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.

“That’s not what Maryland wants,” Hogan said. “Marylanders are demanding real change in Annapolis, and neither one of those career politicians is capable of delivering it.”

Hogan, an Anne Arundel County real estate broker, said he would bring a combination of real-world business acumen and knowledge of state government to the governor’s office. Under Ehrlich, he served as appointments secretary and was responsible for filling hundreds of administration jobs and slots on state boards and commissions.

Rutherford, who lives in Howard County, served for 31 / 2 years as secretary of the Department of General Services, which manages state property and provides services to other government agencies.

He later became an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and served as chief administrative officer for the Republican National Committee during the tenure of Chairman Michael S. Steele, who had been Ehrlich’s lieutenant governor.

Hogan called Rutherford “someone with real management experience who has the ability to be a full partner in our administration and who is actually qualified to be governor.”

In an interview, Hogan said his focus as governor would be on “jobs, middle-class taxpayers and turning the economy around.” He pledged to reach out to Democrats and said he does not plan to campaign on social issues.

“Most people in Maryland don’t care about that right now,” Hogan said. “They care about ‘How am I going to pay my mortgage?’ and ‘How am I going to feed the kids?’ and ‘How am I going to fill up the tank with gas?’ ”

Hogan’s announcement rally, originally planned for last week, was rescheduled because of a snowstorm.

Ehrlich remains Maryland’s only Republican governor in a generation, having served a single term before his defeat by O’Malley in 2006. In 2010, Ehrlich lost a comeback bid to O’Malley by more than 14 percentage points.

Donald F. Norris, chairman of the Public Policy Department at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said whoever prevails in the Republican primary in June faces long odds in the fall unless the Democratic nominee stumbles.

“In a statewide race in Maryland, a good Democrat running a good campaign beats a good Republican running a good campaign every time,” Norris said.

The race for the GOP nomination has three other major candidates: Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Del. Ronald A. George (Anne Arundel) and Charles County businessman Charles Lollar.

Craig has touted his government experience. Since becoming a member of the Havre de Grace City Council in 1979, he has held a string of elected offices, including seats in both chambers of the General Assembly. George, a jewelry store owner, has touted his understanding of business. And Lollar has tried to set himself apart lately with a proposal to eliminate Maryland’s personal income tax, which generates more than $8 billion a year in state revenue.

All three posted anemic fundraising totals this month.

Craig, who has been seen as the front-runner in the race, had less than $183,000 available for his campaign after a year in which he and his running mate spent more than they raised. George reported about $15,000 in cash on hand, and Lollar reported less than $6,000.

The Democratic tickets headed by Brown and Gansler, by contrast, reported about $7.1 million and $6.3 million in the bank, respectively. A third Democrat, Del. Heather R. Mizeur (Montgomery), reported having nearly $750,000 in cash on hand.

Hogan said he does not feel handicapped by his relatively late entrance into the race.

“It just doesn’t appear that anyone’s generated enough support or enthusiasm or money to run any kind of credible campaign against either one of the Democrats,” Hogan said in the interview. “I . . . believe we can.”

During his remarks to the crowd, Hogan paid tribute to his father, Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., a former congressman from Maryland and former Prince George’s County executive. He recalled that his father was the first Republican congressman to call for the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon.

“He taught me more about integrity in one day than most men learn in a lifetime, and I’m proud to be his son,” Hogan said.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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