Former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said the biggest threat Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) faces in his bid for a second term is the “Trump Effect” — a higher-than-normal turnout among Democrats and independents fueled by intense anger at the current occupant of the White House.Anti-Trump sentiment caused a scare for Virginia Republicans in November, when Democrats picked up 34 seats in the House of Delegates, a performance no one predicted. It pushed Democratic Senate hopeful Doug Jones to an upset win over former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), a proven vote-getter, in deep-red Alabama. And it propelled military veteran Conor Lamb (D) to victory late last month in a western Pennsylvania congressional district that Trump carried by nearly 20 points in 2016.“Clearly, he’s a polarizing president,” Ehrlich said in a recent interview with Maryland Matters.Will anger toward Trump’s policies and style cause turnout patterns in Maryland to veer from the norm this November? It’s unknown.Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. with the author during a forum at the University of Maryland Baltimore last week.“It’s very hard to say right now, because — as you see in the national polling — I would caution you about generalizations and early indications of a blue wave,” Ehrlich said. “Trump has always beaten expectations. He has always beaten personal scandal. And sometimes the haters hate too much.”Ehrlich, who lost his bid for a second term as governor to then-Baltimore mayor Martin J. O’Malley (D) in 2006 (and a rematch in 2010), said the fall election will feature two battlegrounds — Baltimore and Montgomery counties.“They hold the formula for success for Republican and Democrat alike. Show me early returns from Montgomery and Baltimore counties and I’ll be able to tell you who won.” Ehrlich represented the Baltimore suburbs in Congress before his victory over then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) in 2002, and he expects both Hogan and the eventual Democratic nominee to spend a lot of time there this summer and fall.“Baltimore County has a very strong conservative Democratic base. The east side — that was my old congressional district — it was a safe Republican seat. That’s Trump country. Our president is very popular there. [Although] Dundalk is 8-to-1 Democrat, I believe the president received over 70 percent of the vote.”“So what people do not realize about the president and to some extent any successful Maryland Republican — [Helen] Bentley, Ehrlich, even [Ellen] Sauerbrey when she ran [for governor] — is those working class Democrats are an essential part of the coalition. Without them you can’t win in this state.”Hogan enters the fall campaign with sky-high approval. A recent survey finds him the second most popular governor in the nation. And that’s no surprise to Ehrlich, who recalled summoning Hogan to Annapolis after his victory in 2002, with a specific request in mind. Ehrlich asked Hogan – a former congressman’s son – to serve as his Appointments secretary.“He thought he was coming to see an old friend and congratulate him on being elected governor. I had far different plans for him,” Ehrlich said.“I knew that [Senate President Thomas V.] Mike Miller would be difficult to deal with. I needed someone to deal with Mike Miller. There was one person on earth who met that job description, and I mean on earth. And that was Larry Hogan. Steeped in politics, knows the state, knows the legislature, knows Mike Miller. That’s a nice formula for success. He ended up doing a great job.”Ehrlich says Hogan’s success flows from his candor and independence.“People think he’s refreshingly honest,” he said. “That is something that, in this era of hyper-polarized politics, I think has really served him well. People need a break from D.C., from just the daily almost breathless battles. When he loses, he loses, he doesn’t pout. And I think people appreciate that. He had a very keen idea of how he wanted to approach the job and he’s been very disciplined in that regard.” Hogan has been vocal of his frustration with lawmakers in Washington, and he has repeatedly distanced himself from Trump.That may endear him to the anti-Trump crowd, Ehrlich said, but it carries its own risks.“The hard-core Trump folks don’t necessarily appreciate some of the comments that have been made. So he has to be a little careful on those lines about alienating them, while at the same time, maintaining his appeal to the center, which he clearly has done and is doing.“So that’s a little bit of a testy road. A strong Democrat will make him travel that road. … But obviously we’re very pleased right now at this point in the process with regard to numbers and fundraising and the whole nine yards. I think he’s done a terrific job.”[email protected]
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, Va. He’s a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.