If Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) wins re-election and Maryland Republicans are successful in swinging a handful of state Senate races this fall, Annapolis will be a very different place in 2019.
That’s because the Democrats who control the legislature will no longer be able to overturn Hogan vetoes on their own, something they have done with relative ease since 2015.
In an interview with Maryland Matters, Hogan declared he’s preparing to do his part in what the state GOP is calling the “Drive for Five.”
Asked at last week’s Tawes Crab and Clam Bake if he plans to hit the campaign trail for candidates in Senate races deemed close or winnable, Hogan said, “Sure,” though he stressed he’s not taking his own race, against former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous (D), for granted.
“I’m running like I’m 20 points behind instead of 20 points ahead,” he said. “I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m going to go to every single county and fight for every single vote. I’m working harder than ever. I’m working seven days and seven nights a week.”
“But we are helping some places where we think we can win a couple Senate seats. I think there’s actually six, maybe seven Senate seats where we can make a difference, and I think we’re going to spend some time there.”
Currently Democrats control 33 of the chamber’s 47 seats. It takes 29 votes to override a gubernatorial veto.
Republicans believe they have just put another district in play.
GOP leaders on Monday were touting a likely ballot switch between their candidates for state Senate and House of Delegates in Charles County – a place undergoing dynamic political change that has only intensified since powerful state Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton and Board of County Commissioners President Peter F. Murphy lost their Democratic primaries last month.
Party leaders said the Republican Senate nominee in District 28, John Leonard, has declined his nomination to the seat. As a result, Bill Dotson, a businessman and chairman of the Charles County GOP, rejected his nomination to the House of Delegates and was selected by the Charles County Republican Central Committee to replace Leonard on the Senate ballot. A nominee will soon be selected to replace Dotson in the House race, and Leonard is expected to be tapped.
Republicans have become increasingly optimistic about their chances to flip the 28th since Middleton, a six-term lawmaker and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was stunned in an acrimonious Democratic primary by Arthur Ellis, an Air Force veteran and accountant. They believe Dodson, who owns a “space management solution” company based in Charles County called Modern Door, can make the general election competitive.
“He has long roots in the community and could bring a lot of personal resources to the race,” Dirk Haire, chairman of the Maryland GOP, said in an interview.
In a statement, Haire suggested that in contrast to Middleton, a political moderate, Ellis is too liberal for the district.
“The far-left takeover of the Maryland Democratic Party has provided the Maryland Republican Party with a unique opportunity,” he said, describing Dotson as “a moderate businessman who can reach across the aisle and run a big tent campaign.”
Republicans are now targeting eight Democratic-held Senate seats.
But despite their optimism – and Democratic fissures in the wake of the primary – Charles County presents a series of challenges for the GOP.
Once white and rural, the county is now substantially suburban, an extension of the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, with an increasingly diverse population. According to Census Bureau estimates, the county as of July 1, 2017 was 47.5 percent black compared to 44.3 percent white.
Moreover, Charles County has become a Democratic stronghold and is increasingly electing African-Americans to public office. It was one of just four jurisdictions that Hogan lost in 2014, and the 28th District is the only Senate district that Republicans are targeting this year where Hogan lost four years ago.
Republicans may be couching the general election in ideological terms, but race will undeniably be a factor below the surface – just as it was in the Democratic primary.
At the same time Ellis, who is black, was defeating Middleton, who is white, in the Senate primary, former County Commissioner Reuben B. Collins, who is black, ousted Murphy, who is white, in the Democratic primary for County Commission president. All three Democratic nominees for House in the 28th District are African-American as well.
In an interview Monday, Ellis said he was not convinced that Leonard – who could not be reached for comment Monday – is willing to remove himself from the Republican Senate ballot. He added that he was not fazed by the GOP maneuvering.
“Whether it’s John Leonard or Bill Dotson, I welcome any competition from [President] Trump’s party in Charles County,” Ellis said.
Dotson is clearly better equipped financially than Leonard to take on Ellis. Through early June, he had raised about $30,000 for his House campaign and reported $8,979 on hand at the time.
Ellis had $25,534 in his campaign treasury early last month, fueled in part by $51,000 from his own pocket.
Republicans continue to be optimistic that they can win five Democratic-held Senate seats, and even Democratic strategists concede that they could lose a few. The GOP targets, in rough order, are:
— District 42, in Baltimore County, now held by Sen. James Brochin (D), who narrowly lost the Democratic primary for county executive. The Republican nominee is Del. Christopher R. West; the Democrats nominated Robbie Leonard, a former county party chairman.
— District 38, on the Lower Shore, where Del. Mary Beth Carozza (R) is challenging Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. (D).
— District 8, in Baltimore County, where Del. Christian J. Miele (R) is taking on Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D).
— District 3, in Frederick County, where businessman Craig Giangrande (R) is challenging Sen. Ronald N. Young (D).
— District 30, in Anne Arundel County, where Sen. John C. Astle (D) is retiring. Former Del. Ronald A. George is the Republican nominee who will square off against Democratic activist Sarah Elfreth.
— District 32, in Anne Arundel County, where Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. (D) is retiring. The Republican nominee is County Councilman John J. Grasso, who will square off against Del. Pamela G. Beidle (D).
Republicans also believe they have an outside chance in District 12, which straddles Howard and Baltimore counties. The incumbent senator, Edward J. Kasemeyer (D), is retiring. The Republican nominee is businessman Joe Hooe, who is taking on Del. Clarence K. Lam (D) in November.
One of the reasons Republicans are optimistic about the Senate races is their belief that Hogan will have long coattails in November.
In the interview, Hogan noted that the candidates he endorsed in the June 26 Republican primary all emerged victorious in their respective races.
Hogan endorsed retired Department of Natural Resources Police Officer Jack Bailey in his race against Sen. Steve Waugh (R-St. Mary’s/Calvert). And he backed Maryland Insurance Commissioner Alfred Redmer Jr., the winner in the Baltimore County executive GOP primary, over Del. Patrick McDonough.
He also endorsed and helped out Giangrande in the Frederick Senate primary and Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Mark W. Crooks, who was seeking retention in the Republican primary.
“There were good candidates and they worked hard,” Hogan said. “But we went in and tried to help the ones that we thought needed a little boost and it worked. We won every race we got involved in.”