Dwight Hunter is tired of hearing about President Trump. Doesn’t want to think about him. And like most Democrats, he wishes his presidency were already over.
“I don’t want to get into the name calling,” said the 67-year-old retired police officer, who lives in Upper Marlboro and voted in Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday. “I don’t want to stoop as low as Donald Trump and get into all of that. I’m trying to avoid saying, probably, how I actually feel.”
Yet after voting for Ben Jealous, who won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Hunter said he might still back the state’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, in November.
“I don’t see that voting Hogan out will be a vote against Trump,” he said. “I don’t think Hogan is furthering Donald Trump’s causes in the state of Maryland.”
Hunter is far from alone. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, the popular governor appears to be inoculating himself from a backlash against a president many Democratic voters despise.
After voting in the closed primary on Tuesday, many registered Democrats — even in blue strongholds such as the D.C. suburbs and Baltimore — said they either planned to vote for Hogan in the general election or are strongly considering doing so. Their comments illustrate the steep path facing Jealous, a Bernie Sanders-style liberal campaigning on a progressive platform of universal health care, debt-free college and a $15 minimum wage.
“When we had the riots and all, [Hogan] stepped in and made things calm,” said Vincent Rhames, 69, who voted for Jim Shea in the Democratic gubernatorial primary at a high school in Northeast Baltimore.
“It seems like he’s been doing a good job, and I want to give him a chance to do more,” Rhames said.
Keith Brown voted for Jealous after seeing his commercials, but had little to say about the former NAACP president and rave reviews for Hogan.
“He’s been a great governor. . . . He’s going to be a hard man to beat,” said Brown, who is 62 and disabled. He paused for 20 seconds when asked whether he has ever voted for a Republican.
“Hogan’s a good governor, man. Never say never,” Brown said. “He’s got a nice presence about himself, and I can see him getting things done.”
Gubernatorial races are increasingly connected to presidential politics but still less so than congressional races, said Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. That has made it possible for Hogan, along with Republican Govs. Charlie Baker in Massachusetts and Phil Scott in Vermont, to remain popular in states where Democrats hold majorities.
“Some of these states are not going to vote the way you would expect them to vote based on their federal voting,” Kondik said. “That ability to break from the national party brand is something that Hogan has demonstrated and gives him an opportunity to win a second term.”
Seventy-one percent of Marylanders approve of Hogan’s job performance, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released three weeks before the primary. In a head-to-head matchup, 29 percent of registered Democrats said they would vote for Hogan, while 60 percent would vote for Jealous. That Democratic support gives Hogan a strong initial advantage as the general-election campaign begins.
Hogan has frequently distanced himself from some of Trump’s more controversial positions, decrying his statements about women and breaking from the president on health-care issues and funding for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
Last week, Hogan joined governors from both parties to call on the Trump administration to defend in court a portion of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act that covers those with preexisting medical conditions.
Even as Democrats pounced on him for not standing up to the administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents, Hogan was ordering a National Guard helicopter and its crew to return from New Mexico and vowing not to deploy state resources to the border until the separations stopped.
Hogan is an unusual specimen in the Republican Party these days, said Herbert Smith, a professor at McDaniel College who has studied Maryland politics for decades. “It’s as if he has a cloaking device or something,” he said.
Hogan’s likability and appeal transcend partisanship, Herbert said. “He took social issues off the table — that has been the downfall of Maryland Republicans statewide — and he campaigns on value issues such as integrity, honesty and fiscal responsibly.”
Jennifer Duffy, who follows governors’ races for the Cook Political Report, said Hogan — who successfully battled cancer in 2015 — has charmed many voters in a way that goes beyond distancing himself from Trump’s policies and rhetoric.
“I think voters actually see him as one of them,” she said, because he has come off not as a slick politician but as an average guy. “The cancer kind of helped humanize him that way.”
William Liou, 34, of Bethesda, who works for the federal government, voted for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III in the gubernatorial primary Tuesday but said he may well vote for Hogan in the general election. “I don’t see a reason to vote him out,” he said.
Roseanne and Stephen Kane, who live at Leisure World in Montgomery County, are both lifelong Democrats — he cast his first presidential vote for John F. Kennedy. Roseanne Kane, 75, said she has never voted for a Republican. But this November, she and her husband said, might be different.
“I have no big problem with Hogan,” said Stephen Kane, 79. “He’s been sufficiently responsive to both sides. What more can you ask of in a politician?”
Justine Coleman and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.
Correction: Earlier versions of this article incorrectly said Roseanne Kane cast her first vote for John F. Kennedy. Her first vote was for Lyndon B. Johnson.