Almost as soon as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared he would not vote for Donald Trump, state Sen. J.B. Jennings’s phone started ringing. Messages piled up on social media sites, either lauding Hogan as an independent thinker or denouncing him for opposing the candidate who handily won his state’s GOP primary.
“Some support what he’s done. Others are upset,” said Jennings (R-Baltimore County), who is the Senate minority leader and a Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. “It’s his vote to give, and nobody else should have an issue.”
After months of trying not to talk about Trump, Hogan on Wednesday became the second sitting GOP governor to say he would not cast a ballot for the presumptive presidential nominee — joining Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), another widely popular Republican in a blue state.
“No, I don’t plan to,” Hogan said when asked whether he would vote for Trump or presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. “I guess when I get behind the curtain, I’ll have to figure it out, maybe write someone in. I’m not sure. It’s a tough choice. I don’t like either one of them.”
The admission, which comes as other elected Republicans across the country continue to sidestep questions about Trump and his controversial candidacy, is likely to shore up Hogan’s support among Democratic and independent voters in Maryland, analysts said. And while rejecting the GOP nominee could cost the first-term governor a bit of his base, it is unlikely to harm his planned reelection bid in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin.
“The very hardcore, of course, are going to be angry and say they aren’t going to support him ever again,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “But if it is him versus a Democrat in 2018, are they really going to stay home and let the Democrat win?”
Hogan gave an early presidential endorsement last year to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a friend whom Hogan credits with helping him win the election in Maryland.
When Christie withdrew his candidacy and decided to back Trump, however, Hogan said he was not inclined to do the same.
As the business mogul moved closer to clinching the nomination, Hogan was peppered with questions at public appearances throughout the state.
After Trump won the Maryland primary, Hogan said he did not plan to support him and had no plans to attend the Republican National Convention.
Earlier this month, he dodged a question about whether Trump is fit to serve as president and told a reporter who asked whether he planned to vote for Trump that he was “not interested in talking about Donald Trump any further.” He suggested that reporters use a “thing called Google” to “look at the stories you’ve written. . . . My answers are not going to change.”
Wednesday’s statement that he would not vote for Trump came during a visit to Prince George’s County. Hogan’s office declined a request for a more extensive interview on the topic, but Hogan elaborated slightly during an appearance in Annapolis on Thursday.
“I’ve always been a blunt, straightforward guy, and whether you agree with me or not, you always know where I stand,” he said. “I’m not trying to convince anybody how to vote, anyway.”
Through a spokesman, the governor said his decision was a difficult one.
Richard Vatz, a political rhetoric professor at Towson University, said Hogan’s stance is likely to serve him well among much of the state electorate.
“Hogan’s unwillingness to support a man, Trump, who is favored by a man to whom he is indebted, Gov. Chris Christie, gives unmistakable testimony to his integrity in many Marylanders’ eyes,” Vatz said. “He has a 70 percent approval rating, and I think part of it is the perception that he is not motivated wholly politically.”
On Facebook, the comments ranged from angry to admiring.
“I personally don’t care if he votes or not but he should stand behind his party or just shut his mouth,” said one woman from Mount Airy, Md. “We the people have voted for the GOP nomination Just like we the people voted our Governor in office.”
Other posters praised Hogan for following his conscience and noted that Maryland will almost certainly back Clinton in the general election anyway, so the governor’s choice will have little impact on the race.
Tim Craig, a small-business owner in Carroll County and the county’s coordinator for the Trump campaign, said in an interview that he is a “huge Larry Hogan guy” but was disappointed that the governor decided to say anything at all about how he plans to vote.
He said Republicans living in Carroll County and other rural parts of the state are “pretty far to the right of center.” Many of those voters, he said, “are not going to have the zeal” for Hogan after his declaration.
Republican lawmakers in Maryland were swift to defend Hogan. “I support Donald J. Trump. The Governor made his decision,” state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Baltimore County) wrote on his Facebook page. “The nasty comments that have been directed towards him are unhelpful and won’t change any minds. When all is said and done, the Governor is doing great things for the State of Maryland and is 100% better than the alternative.”
Joe Cluster, executive director of the state Republican Party, said he did not know what impact Hogan’s decision about Trump will have on the party. “We will see,” he said.
But Eberly, the St. Mary’s professor, said Hogan’s decision stripped the state Democratic Party of its strongest line of attack against the governor. U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) and the Democratic Governors Association have repeatedly called on Hogan to denounce Trump.
“When you don’t vote, there is no greater repudiation,” Eberly said.
Jennings said Hogan’s decision — and the lack of support for Trump from other GOP officials across the country — illustrates the challenges facing the presumptive nominee and the Republican Party.
“We have five months until the election,” Jennings said. “Over the next 150 days, the Trump campaign needs to do their best to shore up support amongst the base, and that includes Gov. Hogan.”