Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland’s lone Republican member of Congress, will monitor election results with the GOP faithful on Tuesday night in a hotel ballroom near Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.
Gov. Larry Hogan, the Republicans’ de facto state leader and perhaps Maryland’s most popular politician, is not expected to be part of the crowd.
Hogan, who disavowed GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump months ago, has also been keeping his distance from the state party, opting out of big fundraisers, endorsing only a few candidates and taking a hands-off approach in the selection of party leaders.
His approach is stirring resentment in some state GOP circles, including from Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County), who is waging a long-shot bid to oust veteran Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) and said the governor “should call it the Larry Hogan Party if he doesn’t want to be a Republican.”
Analysts say Hogan’s strategy is smart in deep-blue Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, Hogan has deep support across party lines and rank-and-file members of Hogan’s own party are unlikely to abandon him for any reason.
“He is very aware that this is a state where the Republican Party is a distinct minority,” said Russell J. Schriefer, a Republican political strategist who has close ties to the governor.
Matthew Crenson, a political-science professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University, said that “by distancing himself from the Republican Party, [Hogan] stays acceptable to the Democrats in the state.”
Hogan, whose approval rating topped 70 percent in a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, said he does not think that his role as the top elected Republican official means deep involvement with the state party.
This past summer he skipped the party’s major fundraising dinner, an event that featured Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — a politician despised by Democrats. He has rarely attended fundraisers for Republican state lawmakers and only sparingly hosted fundraisers for candidates.
“The party has their own things to do, and I’ve got a state to run,” Hogan said. “The governor represents all of the people, regardless of party.”
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, another widely popular Republican in a Democratic state, is not heavily involved with his state party, either. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) — a former presidential candidate and Hogan ally who embraced Trump while Hogan did the opposite — has taken a more active party role.
In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a close friend and staunch supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, is a frequent party cheerleader. He has tapped his vast connections from years as a Clinton fundraiser to bring in donations for his own PAC as well as for the state party.
Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland GOP, said there is “no problem” between Hogan and the party — and much excitement about the fact that Hogan seems well-positioned to win a second term in 2018 and play a role in setting boundaries for legislative and congressional districts after the 2020 Census.
“He’s an active Republican,” Cluster said. “I don’t think he’s screaming it from the mountaintops, but he’s supportive of our party.”
McDonough, who hosts a talk radio show, said he pushed for Hogan on the program during the 2014 Republican primary and the general election. In contrast, he said, the governor “hasn’t lifted a finger” to help McDonough or many other Republicans this election cycle.
“I understand it’s a strong blue state,” McDonough said, “but you should not go to an extreme position that you ignore your party.”
Hogan has not endorsed McDonough or Harris, who is overwhelmingly favored to win reelection in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.
But he gave his backing to state House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), who is running nearly 30 points behind Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) in the contest to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), and to newcomers Amie Hoeber and Mark Plaster, who are challenging Reps. John Delaney (D) and John P. Sarbanes (D), respectively, in congressional races. The governor is also supporting Matt McDaniel, a Republican who is vying for a seat on the Baltimore City Council.
“I’ve endorsed the people who asked me that I thought were really good, who I thought had a chance to win, had a good campaign and I wanted to support,” Hogan said.
Hoeber campaign manager Paul Ellington said that Hogan’s endorsement was a “shot in the arm,” legitimizing Hoeber “as a credible, top-tier candidate.”
The Hoeber and Szeliga fundraisers that the governor attended were among the campaigns’ biggest hauls, officials with their campaigns said.
One top Maryland Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive party issues, said “everyone is happy with the job” Hogan is doing as governor, “but folks are looking to translate that into gains for the party as well.”
Among the key questions, this Republican said, is how hard Hogan will work to help the party gain additional seats in vulnerable state legislative districts in 2018.
For now, many Republicans say they feel Hogan has “no relationship” with the state party, this individual said.
Hogan, 60, has been immersed in GOP politics for much of his life. He worked for his father, Lawrence Hogan Sr., who was a Republican member of Congress from 1969 to 1975 and Prince George’s county executive from 1978 to 1982; was head of Maryland’s Youth for Reagan; and served as appointments secretary for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. from 2003 to 2007.
Ehrlich, the only other Republican governor in Maryland in the past half-century, played a visible role in the state party, headlining fundraisers and attending major functions.
Some say Hogan’s strained relationship with the state GOP dates to the start of his gubernatorial tenure, when he had to nominate a replacement for then-state Sen. Joseph Getty (R-Carroll), whom Hogan had tapped as his senior legislative aide.
The Carroll County Republican Central Committee wanted Robin Bartlett Frazier, who was supported by tea party activists, to fill Getty’s seat. Hogan balked, telling the committee to recommend three names, not one, and ultimately choosing then-Del. Justin Ready (R-Carroll), who had helped with Hogan’s campaign.
Another Republican insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intraparty tensions, said “it’s been like a family feud” between Hogan and the most conservative wing of the party ever since.
“No one has wanted to mend fences,” including Hogan, the insider said.
Hogan also has generally steered clear of conservative social issues since taking office, declining to weigh in on expanding gun ownership or other hot-button topics that could endear him to his party’s right flank.
But Crenson, the Johns Hopkins professor, said GOP hard-liners are extremely unlikely to turn against the governor.
“They don’t want to kill the golden goose,” Crenson said. “If they went after him, they would have a lot to lose.”