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Larry Hogan Has a Problem: Trump Is Supporting Him

Larry Hogan is trying to win in a reliably blue state. But he’s stuck trying to keep a former president at arm’s length — a former president who just endorsed him.

Larry Hogan
Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks during the Hogan for Maryland Primary Night Victory Party. Daniel Kucin Jr./AP

ELKRIDGE, Maryland — Former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Larry Hogan for Senate on Thursday wasn’t expected — at least, not by Hogan.

It also might not help him.

Hogan’s campaign told NOTUS this week that the former Republican Maryland governor wasn’t asking for a Trump endorsement and didn’t expect to receive one. But on Thursday, Trump backed Hogan. Sort of.

“I’d like to see him win,” Trump said of Hogan. “I think he has a good chance to win.”

“I know other people made some strong statements,” the former president said to Fox News, seemingly referring to stern words both a senior campaign adviser and his daughter-in-law had for Hogan. “But I can just say, from my standpoint, ‘I’m about the party’ and ‘I’m about the country.’ And I would like to see him win.”

It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Hogan, but it was more than enough for Democrats to attack the ex-governor. “Donald Trump wants Larry Hogan in the Senate,” the campaign arm for Senate Democrats blasted out on social media minutes after the news broke.

As Hogan battles for what was once considered a safely blue seat against Democrat Angela Alsobrooks, he’s playing a game he knows all too well: finding the right amount of distance from Trump.

Minutes after he spoke at a tax prep business for Spanish speakers on Wednesday, Hogan gave NOTUS a taste of his pitch to voters. Almost all in one big breath, he touted his bipartisan achievements in Maryland — with a legislature overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats — called the election a binary choice between a “far left” Democrat and a lifelong Reagan Republican, and downplayed how “sometimes maybe I disagree on a couple of issues” with Trump.

Hogan is stuck trying to find the proper balance between embracing Trump and pushing him away. After Trump endorsed him Thursday, a senior spokesperson for the Hogan campaign released a statement once again distancing the former governor from the former president.

“Governor Hogan has been clear he is not supporting President Trump just as he didn’t in 2016 and 2020,” said Mike Ricci, a longtime Hogan staffer who also once served in senior roles for then-House Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner.

A source close to the Hogan campaign told NOTUS they were unaware beforehand that an endorsement was coming. Trump and his team didn’t communicate with them about it.

But that might be the problem for Hogan — he’s stuck doing this dance with Trump, where he’s not strictly anti-Trump, and he’s definitely not pro-Trump, but he’s also not anti-anti-Trump.

“It’s a presidential year, and a state where Joe Biden won by 33 points last time, more than 2-to-1 Democratic registration,” Hogan told NOTUS.

“Obviously, if people just vote straight party lines, I’m gonna lose pretty badly,” he said, adding that he considers himself a “huge underdog” in the race.

But if Hogan truly thinks he has no chance, he probably would have stayed home. The truth is, Hogan could be the only Republican who could win a Senate seat in Maryland, after serving eight years in the governor’s mansion there.

His entry into the race so worried Democrats it prompted them to allocate resources to the historically blue state. Just this week, the Democratic National Committee sent another $250,000 to the Maryland Democratic Party. Democrats have now spent $600,000 in this election cycle alone, defending a Senate seat that hasn’t belonged to a Republican in almost 38 years.

Even if Hogan loses, he’s already diverted resources away from other Democratic candidates — and that may be the real strategy for Republicans — but Hogan himself pointed to two reasons he joined the race. First, he said he was disappointed the bipartisan Senate immigration bill didn’t become law. Second, former President George W. Bush encouraged him to run.

“Even though you probably don’t want to be a senator, ‘We need you,’” Hogan recalled Bush saying over the phone.

If he’s going to win in Maryland, however, Hogan has to embrace several positions Republicans would never touch — like codifying abortion protections into law —then hope all the Republicans in the state still come out to support him anyway.

“He obviously is going to run a different campaign than I would run,” Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance told The Hill earlier this month. “I still hope he wins.”

The goal for Senate Democrats, meanwhile, is to remind Maryland voters that Hogan is on the same team as Trump and other Republicans like Vance — and that a vote for Hogan is a vote to hand the Senate majority to the GOP.

“Hogan said it himself: A vote for Republican Larry Hogan is a vote to turn the Senate over to Republicans so they can pass a national abortion ban and push forward Republicans’ extreme policies. That’s a disqualifying agenda for Maryland voters,” a spokesperson for the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm said.

Hogan, of course, doesn’t see it like that. He told NOTUS that, if he wins, the election would probably be part of a red wave. ”I’m not going to be the 51st vote, but I think I’ll be the most reasonable, centrist, most commonsense guy that you’re gonna have in that caucus,” Hogan said.

He added that he got “the exact same percentage” of Republican votes the last time he ran for governor as when Trump last ran for president. “But I added to that by also winning suburban women, a lot of Black voters, Asian and Hispanic voters, and a lot of Democrats and independents,” he said. “So I have to do the same thing.”

According to polls, he already is. There haven’t been a ton of public surveys in Maryland, but the most recent poll — from the beginning of May — had Hogan down to Alsobrooks by nine points, 37% to 46%. A poll from a month before, however, had Hogan beating Alsobrooks by 18 points, 54% to 36%.

The reality is the race is still early, and most voters haven’t tuned in yet. When NOTUS accompanied Hogan to a German restaurant on Wednesday, there was only one other group dining. Hogan’s staff asked them if they wanted a picture with the former governor and his ex-lieutenant, Boyd Rutherford. The diners agreed, politely, almost as if they were doing Hogan a favor.

But Hogan has defied political gravity before in Maryland. And if you needed evidence of his appeal, at Hogan’s first campaign stop of the day, a young Hispanic man saw the campaign bus — more of a glorified RV, really — and stopped.

The man waited around, until after NOTUS had finished talking with Hogan, just so he could get a picture with him.

Ryan Hernández is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.