Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1 in Maryland, making the state solidly blue for presidential elections and liberal enough to pass laws that are among the most progressive in the nation.
But the decisive victory of Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) over Democratic nominee Anthony G. Brown makes clear that Maryland is not as deeply Democratic as its reputation.
Democrats in the state include many blue-collar workers willing to cross party lines on pocketbook issues, especially as Maryland continues to recover from the recession.
Confronted with a lackluster Democratic nominee, and a Republican who called for tax cuts and steered clear of divisive social issues, these and other voters cast ballots Tuesday that returned the governor’s mansion to GOP hands.
“Hogan caught a wave, and it was a big wave. It was from California to Maryland and all in between,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). “He got the right message and played it over and over again.”
During the eight-year tenure of outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Maryland lawmakers abolished the death penalty, legalized gay marriage, imposed some of the most strict gun-control measures in the country and increased the minimum wage.
But some of the battles to pass these laws were bitter, and in several cases legislation was watered down or approved by thin margins.
Take the minimum wage increase this year: O’Malley introduced legislation calling for the state’s base pay to increase to $10.10 an hour by 2016. He struggled to get lawmakers — Republicans and many Democrats — behind the idea.
The legislation that finally passed stretches the time frame to 2018. Tipped workers will not see an increase, and employers may pay a lower “training wage” to younger workers.
The changes angered activists, who pointed to other liberal strongholds where lawmakers were able to do more sooner for their lowest-paid residents.
“In a state as progressive as Maryland, we frequently don’t see the progressiveness reflected in our elected officials,” Gustavo Torres, president of CASA in Action, said at a rally in early May. “We can face our greatest challenges from those who are supposed to be standing with us.”
On a night when Republicans made huge gains nationwide, Hogan’s win was deemed one of the biggest upsets. It sent shock waves through Maryland’s Democratic party establishment, which had convinced itself that the last election of a Republican governor in the state, in 2002, was a fluke that wouldn’t be repeated.
But Hogan almost exactly replicated the path to victory forged 12 years ago by Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Ehrlich won every jurisdiction except the city of Baltimore and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The only difference for Hogan was that he lost Charles County, in Southern Maryland, by just over 2,000 votes. Charles has seen an influx of African American Democratic voters in the past 10 years, many from neighboring Prince George’s County.
Hogan won by solid margins among voters in the sparsely populated counties in the western, eastern and southern parts of Maryland — who often feel they have little in common with the high-powered types who populate Bethesda, Rockville and other close-in Washington suburbs.
But his strongest support was in the more densely populated central part of the state: Frederick, Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties, along with Hogan’s home county of Anne Arundel.
In every jurisdiction, frustration with taxes and anxiety about the economy followed voters to the polls.
Deborah Freeman, 57, walked out of an Anne Arundel precinct beaming about her vote for Hogan. A former registered Democrat, Freeman is now a Republican who liked her candidate’s tax-cutting stance.
“Everything costs more, and Hogan says he’s going to cut back,” she said with approval.
Freeman also said she didn’t care for Brown’s handling of the state’s troubled health-care exchange. “It didn’t show me competence or that he cared,” she said. “I got the impression that he was like, ‘Oh, it’s just money.’ He sidestepped it like it was no big deal.”
Carmen Burke, 52, a tutor who lives in the Montgomery County community of Burtonsville, said she voted for Hogan because she’s fiscally and socially conservative. She said she thinks the state government has been “fairly unrestrained on taxes and social issues,” including legalizing gay marriage.
“The current administration has taxed us to death,” she said.
At Severna Park High School in Anne Arundel, administrative assistant Jennifer Brown said she and her husband “were done with O’Malley.” “Just the taxes was the biggest thing,” added Gordon Brown, a realtor.
Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the country, yet — like many other places — the gap between the wealthiest and poorest residents seems to have swelled in recent years. Many have not seen wages keep up with the ever-increasing cost of living, including a slew of new taxes and fees implemented by O’Malley to fund priorities such as education during tough economic times.
And the state’s higher-earning residents, especially those making more than six figures, have seen their income taxes increase twice.
Brown’s supporters were quick to blame his loss on a national wave of discontent with Democrats. They noted that fewer than half of Maryland voters appear to have cast ballots in the election, lower than in past contests.
“We are not broken because we lost one time,” said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden (D-Baltimore City). “But let me say this: The Republican Party is figuring out how to address and appease the needs of minority communities. And, you know what? So should the Democratic Party.”
Gerron S. Levi, a Democrat and former state delegate from Prince George’s, said the issues that mattered most to voters — taxes, affordable housing and jobs — did not match her party’s focus during the campaign on issues such as gun control and abortion rights.
“The citizens spoke; it’s that simple,” said Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. (D-Worcester), who has seen many constituents in his largely rural district struggle financially for years. “Their messages might vary across the state, but they all agreed that they want change.”
Arelis R. Hernández, Bill Turque, Ian Shapira and Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.