While some prominent Maryland Republicans are headed west to Cleveland this July for the GOP national convention, others — including popular first-term Gov. Larry Hogan — are likely headed east.
To the Eastern Shore, that is.
Hogan, who has made clear his dislike for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, is among scores of Maryland politicos expected at the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake, an annual schmooze-feast in a tiny town in Somerset County.
For 39 years, thousands have gathered every third Wednesday in July in Crisfield, Md., for what many consider the state’s must-attend political event. Maryland’s tourism website describes the event as “an outdoor all-you-can-eat affair featuring crabs, clams, fish, corn on the cob, and watermelon, and in election years, lots of politicians.”
Officials and candidates mingle and sit for hours under tents outside the marina in Crisfield (pop. 2,726, not including crab feast guests). During election years, they make direct appeals to a captive audience over piles of crabs.
With this year’s Republican National Convention set to run July 18 to 21, the crab feast — on July 20 — has the added bonus of providing cover for Republicans who might not want to celebrate the formal nomination of the controversial billionaire.
Hogan, who endorsed the presidential bid of his close friend Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and has steered clear of national politics since Christie dropped out of the race, missed going to Crisfield last year because he was undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma and could not be around large crowds.
But lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who hosts a tent each year, said the governor told him that this summer, he plans to attend.
“He absolutely loves it,” Bereano said of Hogan and the crab feast. Speaking of state Republicans in general, he added, “I think many of them feel it’s a better use of their time to be in Maryland than to go to Cleveland.”
A Hogan spokesman would not confirm the governor’s plans.
Hogan has said repeatedly that he does not intend to go to Cleveland for the convention or endorse Trump. In March, he told the Associated Press that he had “no idea who he would vote for” in the presidential election and that he did not think Trump should be the party’s nominee.
Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) — who is also planning to attend the crab feast, according to Bereano — shares his boss’s view, saying earlier this month that he would not support Trump, even though the billionaire had easily won the state’s April 26 primary.
“He’s not my choice at all,” Rutherford said.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, former presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are also skipping the convention, underscoring the uneasiness that many in the party have with Trump’s nomination.
Maryland’s only Republican member of Congress, Rep. Andy Harris, as well as state Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore County) and former first lady Kendel Ehrlich do plan to attend the convention, according to Joe Cluster, the state party’s executive director. All are serving as delegates.
But Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman (R), who was a delegate four years ago, will be in Crisfield, not Cleveland, spokesman Sean Murphy said.
“Allan never planned to attend the RNC this year,” said Murphy, who described his boss as a supporter “from afar” of former candidate John Kasich, the governor of Ohio. “I think it was clear to him early in his term that, with his busy schedule as county executive, making time for those types of events was going to be tough.”
Del. Kathy Szeliga, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), is unsure of her plans, according to a campaign spokeswoman.
“Kathy’s July schedule is still in flux,” said Leslie Shedd, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County lawmaker, who is minority whip in the House of Delegates. “But attending the Tawes Crab and Clam Bake on the 20th is a priority for her. It’s a great tradition, and Kathy has enjoyed attending it year after year.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Szeliga’s Democratic opponent, will be at the crab feast, a spokesman said.