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Commentary Election 2020

Josh Kurtz: Hogan Isn’t on the Ballot But He’s Got Plenty Riding on This Election

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program in late July. Another round of national TV appearances for Hogan could follow after Election Day. Screen shot.

He’s not on the Election Day ballot.

He pretty much threw away his presidential vote when he announced that he was writing in Ronald Reagan. And so far as we can tell, he’s made no effort to help any Republican candidate on the ballot in his home state.

But Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) still has plenty riding on Tuesday’s election results.

As a man with 2024 presidential ambitions, it matters a lot to Hogan whether President Trump wins or loses. A Trump victory means the president will have a stranglehold on the Republican Party for the foreseeable future. A Trump loss may not diminish Trumpism, but it at least leaves open the possibility for a conversation about the future of the national GOP ― something Hogan clearly wants to be a part of.

Hogan conveniently is booked for the day after the election to appear on a Washington Post webinar discussing the outcome of the election along with former Trump White House counsel Don McGahan, and Bob Bauer, a Democratic election lawyer and adviser to former vice president Joe Biden. The webinar is hosted by national reporter Robert Costa, who appears to have a direct line into Hogan’s political thinking. No doubt Hogan will be making another round of national TV appearances in the days ahead.

While he hasn’t participated at all in Maryland political races, Hogan did make a late effort to oppose a statewide constitutional amendment on the ballot that would give the legislature greater say in the state budget process. This would not impact Hogan directly if voters approve it, as it would not take effect until just as Hogan is leaving office in 2023. But Hogan has warned that it could lead to irresponsible budget decisions and make the budget process more partisan ― even though budget writing is one of the least partisan exercises in Annapolis these days.

Will Hogan, whose political coattails have always been inches long despite his personal popularity, have any impact on this outcome? Probably not.

Meanwhile, Hogan has injected himself into half a dozen political races across the country, endorsing a fellow governor, four congressional incumbents, and a challenger in a competitive House race. All the candidates are in the center-right space that Hogan is attempting to occupy, in the context of the Trump/tea party-era Republican Party.

Here are the candidates he has endorsed: Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, who is a heavy favorite for re-election; Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who is fighting for her political life as she seeks a fifth term; New York Rep. John Katko, who represents a Syracuse-area district and is in a race that The Cook Political Report rates as a tossup; Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, who is also in a tossup race; Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, probably the most centrist Republican in the House, who is a slight favorite in his suburban Philadelphia district; and Tom Kean Jr., a New Jersey state senator and son of the former governor, who is challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski in a race that Cook rates as “lean Democratic.”

Hogan’s endorsement is obviously not going to sway any of these elections. But the success or failure of the six candidates could say something about the future prospects of the type of Republican that Hogan seems to favor. And insiders will certainly be tallying the wins and losses.

Hogan may not have endorsed any Republicans running for office in Maryland this year, but it’s not clear whether they would welcome it. Kimberly Klacik, the Fox News sensation who has vacuumed up millions of dollars in the 7th congressional district but is still likely to lose big, has publicly criticized Hogan. Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), who is challenging Rep. David J. Trone (D) in the 6th District, was a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging Hogan’s stay-at-home restrictions as the COVID-19 pandemic continued raging. Even Rep. Andrew P. Harris, the lone Republican in the state’s congressional delegation and a lock to win re-election, has publicly criticized Hogan’s public health restrictions.

Last but not least, the very nature of this fall’s election is a Hogan creation. After a primary that was mostly conducted by mail ― a concession to the coronavirus ― Hogan ordered a more traditional kind of general election, but with a robust mail-in component, a greater number of early voting days, and, at the suggestion of elections officials, fewer but larger polling places for Election Day.

Some voting rights advocates and Democrats screamed voter suppression at first, but those complaints have largely dissipated. A record number of people have voted early ― a trend that’s taking place all over the country ― with few major complications.

Hogan took an early victory lap of sorts, releasing a public service ad Monday alongside state Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), thanking Marylanders for voting and assuring them that their votes would be counted fairly and accurately.

“Marylanders are coming out to vote in record numbers at our polling places, where it is safe and public health protocols are in place,” Hogan said in the ad. “We are also working closely with state and federal law enforcement partners to provide election security oversight and ensure our election systems are protected against any potential outside threats. Democracy is not a partisan issue. We are one, united Maryland.”

Still, the polls could be extremely busy across the state on Tuesday, with long lines and chaotic vote-counting not completely out of the question. Hogan has been highly critical of Linda H. Lamone, the state’s election administrator. But if something goes wrong with the election process Tuesday and its aftermath, Hogan will surely own it.

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Josh Kurtz: Hogan Isn’t on the Ballot But He’s Got Plenty Riding on This Election