Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who for much of the past two years kept his distance from his fellow Republicans, sounded like the party’s cheerleader at its annual Red, White and Blue dinner Wednesday night.
Despite Democrats’ earlier predictions of the state GOP’s demise, Hogan told the crowd at the BWI Airport Marriott in Linthicum that the Maryland Republican Party continues to be “better, stronger and more relevant” than it ever has been.
Hogan, looking to shore up the base for his own reelection and for down-ballot races in 2018, rattled off the increased number of Republicans in local and state offices since 2014: 50 state delegates, 14 state senators and, for the first time in Maryland history, five county executives. He said Republicans control a strong majority in 16 of 23 county governments.
“We’re just getting started. You ain’t seen nothing yet,” the popular governor told attendees at the party’s biggest fundraiser of the year. “Just imagine what we’re going to get done together over the next six years — especially after next year when we sweep elections all across the state.”
Hogan kept to his usual pattern of avoiding controversial social issues in public remarks and steered clear of mentioning President Trump, whose high disapproval ratings in Maryland could drive a Democratic comeback next year, according to analysts. He did not repeat a controversial allegation he made in a recent fundraising letter, when he accused Democrats of “trying to make our state a safe haven for criminals here illegally.”
“This is a time of great political division in our country, but we have to find a way to bring our country together,” Hogan said. “This isn’t just about the differences between the right and the left. This is about the differences between right and wrong. This is a Republican dinner, but before we are Republicans or Democrats, we must always be Americans first.”
Hogan said the country will be stronger “when we put the anger and the partisanship aside and when we find a way to all work together to achieve real, bipartisan solutions to the serious problems that face us.”
Wednesday night was Hogan’s first appearance at the GOP annual dinner since taking office in 2015. Tickets were $250 a person, and the party raised about $300,000.
Two years ago, the keynote speaker was Trump, then a candidate in a crowded Republican primary field. The dinner took place a week after the governor announced he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was the headliner, and dozens of union activists came to protest. Hogan’s office said he could not attend because of a scheduling conflict.
To the chagrin of some party loyalists, Hogan over the past two years mostly has opted out of big fundraisers, endorsing only a few candidates in the 2016 elections and taking a hands-off approach in the selection of state party leaders.
Political analysts say his strategy was smart, given that Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin in Maryland and that Hogan’s popularity and appeal so far have stretched across party lines.
Last week, Hogan endorsed a young Republican delegate from Baltimore County who is vying for one of the Senate seats that the party has targeted.