Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) headlined the Maryland Republican Party’s annual fundraising dinner Friday night, energizing the crowd with a message that conservative reformers can win elections in heavily Democratic states.
But his appearance drew dozens of union protesters and about one-third fewer guests than Donald Trump attracted to the event last year, when the real estate executive and reality television celebrity showed up days after announcing his bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) did not attend Friday’s event, missing for a second year in a row because of what his office described as a “scheduling conflict.” The dinner took place at a reception hall in Glen Burnie.
Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer said the governor, who posted pictures of himself on Friday visiting the New York Stock Exchange, had traveled to New York the previous day for an economic-development meeting. He said the governor was expected back Friday.
Maryland GOP officials said Hogan, whose approval rating has soared above 70 percent in the state, was the guest speaker Thursday night for a New York Republican Party fundraiser that featured high-level donors.
“They’ve been trying to get our governor for a while,” said Joe Cluster, the Maryland Republican Party’s executive director. Cluster said he was not concerned about Hogan’s absence from the past two dinners, saying the governor will “probably headline one of these in the next two years.”
Walker, who won his first term as governor when Democrats controlled Wisconsin’s governorship and both chambers of the state’s legislature, said Hogan’s popularity in Maryland is proof that “there is hope for [Republicans] across America.”
Walker’s appearance drew about 400 guests, each paying between $100 and $300 per plate. Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, brought in about 700 guests last year.
Walker predicted that Hogan would win reelection, saying that “even in traditionally blue states like yours and mine . . . conservative reforms work.”
Maryland House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), who is running against U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) for the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), introduced Walker, saying he is “teaching us how to purple Maryland.”
Walker recounted the high-profile battles he fought with labor groups after aggressively pushing for changes to his state’s public-sector unions in 2011.
Walker’s efforts sparked regular pro-union rallies that sometimes attracted tens of thousands of protesters to his state’s capital. But he won a recall election in 2012 and was reelected in 2014, making him a darling of the tea party movement and a favorite of conservatives.
Critics have accused Walker of scapegoating unions for his state’s problems.
On Friday, protesters representing an assortment of labor groups gathered outside the fundraising event, chanting anti-Walker slogans and carrying handwritten signs that said, “Walker not welcome.”
Walker, after describing the union pressure he faced while in office, brushed off the demonstrators.
“You can see why they were part of my welcoming party here today,” he said. “Obviously, that means I haven’t lost my touch — our reforms are still working.”
Maryland Del. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore), who protested as a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said Walker is largely interested in “busting up unions that support working families.”
R. Bruce Holtman Sr., a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said he would like Walker to “go back to Wisconsin and take Gov. Hogan with him.”
Howard County resident Ernest Robinson, a guest at the fundraiser, said Hogan could have offset some of the protests outside by being present at the event.
“It would have shown some support for the Republican cause,” he said. “But sometimes you can’t be in two places at the same time.”