How former Gov. Hogan’s entry shakes up Maryland Senate race

For all the latest developments in Congress, follow WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller at Today on the Hill.

Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to run for the U.S. Senate creates the potential for a high-stakes race the state hasn’t experienced in decades.

It was 50 years ago that Democrat Barbara Mikulski lost to the last Republican U.S. Senator to serve in Maryland, Charles Mathias.

Mathias retired in 1987 and Mikulski, who first served in the House, was then elected to the Senate.

When Mikulski retired, then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a longtime Democratic House member, was largely favored to defeat Republican state lawmaker Kathy Szeliga in the 2016 Senate race.

Van Hollen won easily, beating her by 25 percentage points.

But Hogan is a powerful Republican political force in a state that’s long been blue and could make things very interesting.

After defying the odds and getting elected governor in 2014, he carved out a reputation as a centrist and was a popular state leader for two terms.

“My fellow Marylanders: you know me,” he said in the video release announcing his candidacy on Friday. “For eight years, we proved that the toxic politics that divide our nation need not divide our state.”

Hogan had at one point considered a run for the White House and his decision to run is a coup for the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who’s responsible for trying to help the GOP retake the Senate.

“Governor Hogan is a great leader for Maryland, and that’s why he remains overwhelmingly popular in the state. We look forward to welcoming him to the United States Senate,” Daines said in a statement Friday.

Hogan is the clear favorite to become the GOP nominee, though there are seven other candidates.

He’s likely to face either Rep. David Trone or Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, the two leading Democratic candidates.

The primary elections for both parties are May 14.

Given that a Republican hasn’t represented Maryland in the Senate in 37 years and that registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the state, Hogan faces a challenging climb to get to Capitol Hill.

But Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, which tracks national and state politics, changed its rating of the Senate seat from “Safe Democratic” to “Likely Democratic” after Hogan announced his candidacy.

University of Virginia political analyst Kyle Kondik said on the social platform X that Hogan’s entry into the race could lead to ticket-splitting, but a “huge lift” would be required to get him elected.

Still, he called it “a great development for Rs (Republicans) to expand the map a bit.”

Hogan remains a unique GOP candidate

Hogan has received national attention for his willingness to criticize former President Donald Trump.

That endears him to many independents and Democrats, but it also puts him at odds with many in the Republican Party.

The Senate GOP conference has changed considerably in recent years, with the continuing influence of Mr. Trump.

That was on clear display this week, when after four months of negotiations to get a border agreement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell abruptly threw in the towel on a deal Republicans themselves had originally insisted upon.

Only four Republican senators voted to move ahead with the border deal as part of a major foreign aid package.

McConnell’s power appears to be waning and some GOP supporters of Mr. Trump have publicly said they want him out.

If Hogan managed to get elected, he might find himself relatively isolated.

That can make it hard to get things done — something he prides himself upon.

But first things first — Hogan has to see if he can put together the statewide campaign that enabled him to win the governorship.

Mileah Kromer, director of the Sara T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College, told WTOP’s Kate Ryan she was surprised by Hogan’s last-minute entry into the race.

“He has consistently stated over the last two years that he was not interested in running for the U.S. Senate,” she said. “Politics and times change. So here we are.”

Kromer said she is interested in seeing if he can find the same “messaging magic” that he did when running for governor.

“My guess is that he would not have entered into this race in Maryland unless he thought he had a legitimate chance of actually making it competitive and potentially winning,” he said.

The race is going to get a lot more expensive with Hogan in the mix.

Trone has already spent well over $10 million on his campaign. Alsobrooks has picked up endorsements from several prominent Democrats, including Van Hollen. Kromer noted that Hogan has a proven track record as a fundraiser.

All these factors suggest that Hogan has just made the Maryland U.S. Senate race much more competitive, with the Maryland primaries just over three months away.

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Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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