Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) officially kicked off his reelection bid before hundreds of cheering supporters at an Annapolis tavern Saturday.It was an extremely efficient and well-executed event, and Hogan, as always, was succinct and on-message. He barely said anything different than he had a few days earlier, when he spoke to an equally big and almost as boisterous crowd of business leaders at a lunch sponsored by Maryland Business for Responsive Government.“I can’t tell you how much it means for me to have you all here,” Hogan said after being introduced by Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) and a hagiographic video. “I know that many of you were with us from the very beginning.”Hogan described the campaign under way as “a fight for Maryland’s future” – but he didn’t talk about Maryland’s future much. Instead, he talked a lot about Maryland’s recent past – about his 2014 upset election, about his mandate to “clean up the mess in Annapolis,” and about how he turned around the state’s fortunes. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. at his reelection kickoff Saturday. Photo by Josh KurtzHogan has talked throughout his tenure about seeking “bipartisan, common-sense solutions” to the state’s challenges, but he is now working John F. Kennedy into the speech. In fact, JFK appeared in the video, and Hogan quoted him on Saturday.“President Kennedy once said, ‘Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer,’” the governor said. “That principle has guided our administration for four years.”Hogan gave passing reference to his hand in quelling the Baltimore riots in 2015 following the death, in police custody, of Freddie Gray, and to overcoming non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he was diagnosed with that same year.“If we can make all this progress while dealing with riots and battling cancer, just imagine what we can do in the next four years,” he said.He later added: “An overwhelming majority of Democrats and independents and Republicans approve of the job that we’re doing. So, maybe they should just consider letting us continue to do this job for the next four years.”But other than the theme of “more of same” – which undoubtedly will carry great potency in the general election – Hogan hasn’t truly sketched out what he would do if the voters give him “four more years,” as the crowd shouted lustily. And Democrats believe this presents them with an opening.“I think the real Larry Hogan is more like Chris Christie,” said Maryland Democratic Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews, referring to the former New Jersey governor and Hogan mentor. “I think a second term of Larry Hogan looks a lot like Chris Christie’s, where his conservative views really come out.”Matthews and Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller were among the protesters across the street from Union Jack’s Pub Saturday, where Hogan was holding his reelection rally. Matthews used Hogan’s announcement to do a tour of her own that day, holding events with Democratic elected officials in Waldorf and in Silver Spring before stalking Hogan in Annapolis.The Democrats called their events the “Shortchange Maryland” tour – a play on Hogan’s organization and slogan, “Change Maryland,” which propelled him to the governorship four years ago. Banners on the stage where Hogan spoke Saturday read “Changing Maryland.”Two weeks before the June 26 primary, the nine-way Democratic race for governor remains tied between Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous, with a huge number of undecided voters. The Baltimore Sun released another poll with those very same results over the weekend – the third in the past week – and another poll, by Gonzales Research is due out on Tuesday.Matthews said she believes the Democrats’ task of building a case against Hogan will be easier when they have a nominee – and added that all the Democratic gubernatorial contenders have committed to appearing together the day after the primary in front of Government House – the governor’s mansion – in Annapolis.“When we’ve got our candidates united behind the winner, it’ll be a fair fight,” she said.But Hogan, ever disciplined – if a little less nonpartisan than he was sounding minutes earlier – made it clear that he’s ready for the fight.“I don’t know much about these nine [Democratic] candidates running for governor,” he told his supporters. “But I do know one thing: that every single one of them wants to take us in a completely different direction. And that’s really what this election is all about. Do we want to take Maryland backwards and return to the failed policies of the past?”[email protected]
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.