Asking the Washington Post editorial board to weigh in on a Maryland Republican governor primary is like asking me to review an Indian cricket match. I could accurately report some of the goings-on, without really grasping the bigger picture.
So it is with the Post’s endorsement of Larry Hogan. What does the Post consider the chief points in Hogan’s favor? “Mr. Hogan offers the best hope for a real race in November” because he has “distanced himself from more doctrinaire Republicans” and “[positioned] himself to the left of the GOP’s bomb-throwers.” In particular, he “has distinguished himself from his main primary rivals by toning down the anti-tax brimstone and acknowledging the reality that Maryland is not Texas and a Republican governor will have to meet Democratic lawmakers in some conciliatory middle ground.” Also, it seems he is “genial” and his father was a Congressman in the 1970s.
As it happens, I am part of what should be the target constituency for an appeal like this. I do think Maryland Republicans need to keep constantly in mind that the state is effectively part of the Northeast these days in its voting preferences, that most of its voters are not radically discontented at present with the way the Democrats have been running state government, and that if a Republican manages to get elected governor any time soon (which I do think is possible) he or she will need to know how to work with a heavily Democratic legislature. And I agree that many party nominees come off as doctrinaire and hard to elect unless they are running in extremely GOP-loyal districts. While the Post does not mention it, I also like that Mr. Hogan is the quietest of the GOP candidates on social issues.
As the Post notes, Hogan has kept aloof from the MD-GOP and its local base, instead campaigning as if he were already the party’s nominee. Yet he’s “vague about the targets of spending trims,” and not just on those. “Given the time he’s had to plan his run, his campaign is glaringly short on policy specifics, and his views on education, health care and the environment are gauzy at best.” That absence is all the more curious because of the innovative way in which Mr. Hogan chose to prepare his run for governor. That method was first to build a nonprofit group, Change Maryland, that might easily have been mistaken for a policy-oriented research outfit, and then abruptly turn it into a campaign, so that people who had signed up for the CM email list suddenly found themselves getting what looked like successor mailings from Hogan for Governor. (The Hogan people say this was all done on the up-and-up through an arms’-length buyout of CM assets, which has not kept his two main opponents from filing an ethics complaint.) Despite the Post’s claim to discern now in Hogan a “conciliatory tone,” especially on taxes, and a “reluctance to declare war on the Democratic establishment,” Change Maryland actually did spend a lot of its time inveighing against both taxes and the Democratic establishment.
Mr. Hogan’s main GOP opponents, Harford County Executive David Craig and Del. Ron George (R-Anne Arundel), are by contrast running hard as if they were in a Republican primary. They are traveling the state with their running mates spending time with base Republican voters, reminding constituents of their credentials as conservatives, and, yes, trying to show some vision of where they would take the state if Democrats somehow fall asleep at the switch and let them. Since Maryland is now what is known as an early primary state, there will be four and a half months after primary day to turn to themes more likely to connect with centrist voters, independents, and others not well represented in GOP primaries.
The Post appears to accept the postures the candidates are striking at this stage as sure indications of how they would campaign later and how they would govern if elected. It entirely fails to inquire how the three have actually behaved in office or, in Hogan’s case, not in office (though he did hold an important post back in Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s administration). David Craig has served two terms as Harford County executive, and if he came across as some sort of “bomb-thrower” in that capacity, or was unable to work with Democrats, I’d be very surprised. When I heard Del. Ron George speak in Frederick, he made a point of pride of describing how he had found ways to cooperate with Democrats to get legislation passed in Annapolis, rather than just vote no on everything. Does Mr. Hogan take the prize for being the most “genial” of the three in private settings? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that he does not.
Mr. Hogan had a lead in the GOP polls last time I checked, he has a decided money advantage, and he benefits from his opposition being split. What he has not done, so far as I have been able to tell, is to close the sale, with an unusually high number of Republican primary voters remaining undecided. We’ll see whether he succeeds in doing that over the next four and a half weeks.