The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Could deep-blue Maryland elect Republican Larry Hogan to the U.S. Senate?

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has a 64 percent approval rating, down slightly from last year, according to a new poll. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
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A previous version of this article incorrectly described the tenure of former Gov. Robert Ehrlich. He served one term.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s popularity has dipped from record-high territory, but residents still overwhelmingly approve of his performance — so much so they favored him over a well-established Democratic senator in a hypothetical matchup, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds.

Nearly a year into his second term, 64 percent of Maryland adults give the Republican governor a positive approval rating, down from a high of 71 percent last year. Even with the decrease, Hogan’s approval remains better than the high-water mark for any of his three predecessors.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, Hogan — who is term-limited — continues to draw support from a broad coalition, including 8 in 10 registered Republicans, about 7 in 10 independents and 6 in 10 Democrats.

The strength of his political capital is borne out in a hypothetical 2022 matchup against Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the poll finds.

Were they running against each other in a U.S. Senate race held today, Hogan would hold a lead over Van Hollen, who was elected to the Senate in 2016.

The poll, conducted by The Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement, found that Maryland adults back Hogan over Van Hollen, 51 percent to 41 percent. Among registered voters, Hogan tops Van Hollen by an eight-point margin.

Read full poll results and methodology | See results by groups

“It’s really a measure of popularity,” said Michael Hanmer, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland. “Hogan’s approval is still high, even among Democrats. . . . He’s been in the news more . . . than Van Hollen. He’s on people’s minds more; they’re seeing him more.”

Maryland has not elected a Republican senator since Charles McCurdy “Mac” Mathias Jr., who retired in 1987. The state has reliably backed Democrats in national presidential elections since Bill Clinton was elected in 1992.

Yet Catherine Smith, a Democrat who lives in Capitol Heights, said she would opt for Hogan over Van Hollen in a potential matchup because she admires Hogan’s job performance, especially how he battled cancer while in office during his first term.

“Sometimes you can’t go with your party just because it is your party,” said Smith, 68, who runs a small day-care business. “Right now, Chris Van Hollen hasn’t impressed me all that much. To get my vote, you have to do a little bit more.”

Smith said she liked that Hogan has vocally criticized President Trump and wishes the governor would have challenged him in the 2020 primary — although she said she wasn’t yet sure that Hogan would have had her vote in the presidential general election.

Hogan will not challenge Trump, leaving Trump’s GOP critics with limited options

Last year, Hogan told The Washington Post he is not interested in being one of hundreds of lawmakers in Congress. At the same time, he has continued to raise his national profile through his work as chairman of the National Governors Association and has increasingly weighed in through national media on matters in Washington.

Last week, he joined a minority of Republicans in backing the impeachment inquiry into Trump, saying “I don’t see any other way to get to the facts.”

Hogan’s support among registered Republicans now stands at 80 percent, down from over 90 percent in mid-2018, the poll finds. The dip follows his flirtation with a primary challenge to Trump and more outspoken criticism about polarization in Washington.

That’s why Les Solomon, a Trump-supporting conservative who grew up in Baltimore County, said she has soured on Hogan. Solomon, a retired small-business owner, said she was a strong backer of Hogan when he created the advocacy group “Change Maryland,” which fueled his underdog gubernatorial campaign in 2014. She has supported some of his decisions, like lowering tolls on the Bay Bridge.

But Solomon said Hogan’s repeated criticisms of Trump, including most recently his support for launching an impeachment inquiry, have disappointed her.

“I hate it,” said Solomon, 67, of Owings Mills. “I am really mad at him. But I would always choose a Republican over a Democrat.”

Hanmer, the political scientist, said party loyalty might affect any real-life matchup once Democratic voters consider sending a Republican to the U.S. Senate could alter the balance of power in national politics.

Gary Wilson, a lifelong Democrat from Gaithersburg, scoffed at the idea of voting for the governor over Van Hollen in a potential race.

“I’m a Democrat. I don’t vote for Republicans,” he said, though he conceded that he did vote for Ronald Reagan decades ago. “I don’t care what Hogan does — I vote for the Democrat.”

Wilson, 64, said that party loyalty aside, he also respects Van Hollen, who represented the congressional district where Wilson lives before running for Senate. Wilson described Van Hollen as a rare breed of elected official who is both “very political and very ethical.”

Hogan still has three years remaining in his term and has not publicly said what he intends to do after leaving office. In addition to two political groups he formed to raise millions to advance his agenda in the state, Hogan also has a political action committee called An America United. That group is billed as a way to “break partisan gridlock” nationally and bring “all Americans” together.

For now, the poll finds 61 percent of registered voters in Maryland say Hogan has accomplished “a lot” or “a fair amount” during his tenure.

That percentage is significantly higher than the governor's two most recent predecessors; fewer than half said the same about Martin O'Malley (D) and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) as favorably during their respective tenures.

This Post-U. Md. poll was conducted Oct. 9-14 among a random sample of 860 Maryland adults, 60 percent reached on cellphones and 40 percent on landlines. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for both the overall sample and the sample of 819 registered voters.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

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