The Washington Post

In Md. governor’s race, Larry Hogan pushes pocketbook issues, but foes push back

Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan, center, chats with supporters at the 38th Annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake on July 16 in Crisfield, Md. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

To hear Maryland Democrats tell it, a victory for Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan could lead to the legalization of additional assault rifles, new limits on women’s access to contraception and the clock being turned back on gay rights.

But Hogan isn’t talking much about those issues on the campaign trail — and he says he respects existing state laws on guns, reproductive issues and same-sex marriage, even if they differ from his own long-held beliefs.

As he attempts an upset in a heavily Democratic state, the Anne Arundel County businessman is trying to fashion his bid around core issues that could draw voters across party lines: cutting taxes, creating jobs and expanding the economy.

But the Democratic campaign of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown is determined not to let him.

In recent weeks, Brown’s campaign has labored to paint Hogan as too extreme for Maryland’s electorate. In addition to turning a spotlight on social issues, Brown and his allies have tried to link Hogan to an Anne Arundel County Council candidate who belongs to a group that supports Southern secession and a Frederick County sheriff who has been accused of being anti-immigrant.

“It seems like every other day, we’re getting some off-the-wall attack on something that no one cares about,” Hogan said. “They’re trying to make me into a right-wing, tea party Republican.”

It’s a strategy that could be particularly potent in Maryland, where only one Republican has won the governorship in the past generation, and polls show Brown with an early lead over Hogan.

To win in November, Hogan will need support from a large majority of independents, as well as a sizable number of Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in the state by more than 2 to 1. Although Hogan’s message of lowering taxes and making Maryland more business-friendly might resonate among some Democrats, the Brown team is banking that the more voters hear about Hogan’s views on other issues, the less they will like him.

“It’s a clear strategy, to characterize him as outside Maryland’s political mainstream,” said Mike Morrill, a longtime Democratic strategist. “You have two competing agendas going on here: Hogan is trying to broaden his base, while the Brown team is trying to narrow it.”

Brown campaign manager Justin Schall said Hogan should not get to avoid talking about social issues simply because they’re inconvenient for him. And Schall pushed back on Hogan’s allegation that Brown has sidestepped economic issues, noting that during the primary Brown put out a jobs plan and held meetings around the state to talk to business owners about making Maryland more competitive.

Schall accused Hogan of being out of step with Marylanders on the economy as well as on social issues, citing the Republican’s call to cut corporate taxes — an idea that was embraced by defeated Democratic candidate Douglas F. Gansler.

“We will beat Larry Hogan on the economic issues, and we will beat Larry Hogan on the social issues, because he’s just too extreme,” Schall said.

Hogan, 58, has made three unsuccessful bids for Congress and explored running for governor in 2010. Before becoming a candidate, he worked as an aide to his father, Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., who was county executive in Prince George’s from 1978 to 1982. The younger Hogan also served four years as appointments secretary for then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), steering thousands of people into state jobs.

Through the decades — and in this year’s Republican primary — Hogan voiced opinions on a range of social issues.

On abortion, for example, he was publicly supportive of his father’s efforts in 1980 to ban abortions at county hospitals, except in cases where the life of the mother was at risk, according to news accounts at the time.

During a 1981 run for Congress, Hogan said he supported a “human life amendment” to the U.S. Constitution. In a 1992 voter guide, he said he supported both parental notification for a minor seeking an abortion and a 24-hour waiting period after an initial consultation.

Hogan says he considers such stances to be “superfluous” to this year’s campaign, because abortion is “a matter of settled law” in Maryland. He said the same thing about the legalization of same-sex marriage and the gun-control law, relatively new measures that he opposed but which the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature shows no signs of revisiting.

The gun bill, which was challenged in federal court, included a ban on 45 types of assault rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, as well as new fingerprinting and training requirements to purchase a handgun.

After a federal judge ruled this week that the law was constitutional, Brown pounced. His campaign issued a statement applauding the decision and accusing Hogan of supporting the sale of “military-style assault weapons” and “30-round magazines with cop-killing bullets.”

In June, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that family-owned businesses do not have to offer their employees contraceptive coverage that conflicts with the owners’ religious beliefs, the Brown campaign and its allies pressed Hogan to publicly detail his position.

Hogan initially declined to comment on what’s known as the “Hobby Lobby” ruling, saying it wasn’t pertinent to the governor’s race. Brown, in contrast, called the court’s decision “wrong, plain and simple” and pledged to work with the legislature to ensure that birth control is widely available.

After criticism from abortion rights groups and Maryland Democrats, Hogan said he is “for unfettered access to birth control for every single woman in Maryland.”

Del. Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery) said a candidate’s commitment to such issues matters, in part because Maryland’s governor has great say over how much the state invests in family planning services. “As governor, Larry Hogan could roll back the clock on that support,” she said.

In recent weeks, Brown and his supporters have pressed Hogan to disavow members of his party who hold controversial views.

The Brown campaign e-mailed reporters about the secessionist views of Michael Peroutka, a Republican council candidate in Anne Arundel, where Hogan lives. Hogan promptly responded by saying Peroutka’s views have no place in politics. An aide said that Hogan and Peroutka have no relationship.

More recently, CASA in Action, a Latino advocacy group that has endorsed Brown, called on Hogan to repudiate Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, after a photo of Hogan and Jenkins was posted on a Facebook page maintained by Hogan’s campaign. In a letter to Hogan, CASA President Gustavo Torres said Jenkins has “a very long and very public record of fear-mongering against immigrants.”

When a caller asked Hogan about the Jenkins photo during a recent television appearance, he dismissed it as “a silly question that has nothing to do with this race,” adding that Jenkins does “a great job” in Frederick.

As Hogan worked the crowd recently at the Montgomery County fair, he found opportunities to talk to potential voters about topics largely of his choosing.

He joked with a Marine that the man looked too young to be in the military. He confessed a weakness for deep-fried Oreos. And he found sympathetic listeners like Tom Smith, a 56-year-old Democrat who said Hogan’s economic message resonated.

“A lot of people are tired of getting taxed to death,” said Smith, a Mount Airy resident who is a part-time worker on the barn staff at the fair.

Smith said he supports abortion rights, and he knows that Hogan does not. But he doesn’t consider himself a one-issue voter.

“I’m not going to key in on one issue where I might disagree with him,” Smith said. “I vote for the person I feel is best for the job, and right now, I feel Larry Hogan is best for the job.”

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.



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