Van Hollen Need Not Lose Sleep Over Potential Senate Challenge, Hogan Says

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) outside an April meeting he convened in Annapolis of other governors and members of Congress to discuss bipartisan federal infrastructure proposals. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Despite efforts by state and national Republican leaders to lure him into a Senate race against Chris Van Hollen (D) next year, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said he does not plan to try to unseat the state’s junior senator.

In an interview with Maryland Matters, the governor said his recent schedule, which has contained a full plate of public events across the state, is not part of a ramp-up ahead of the 2022 campaign.

“I’ve said like a million times I haven’t really expressed any interest whatsoever in that,” he said of a potential senatorial run.

“I’m going to finish out my term as governor, run through the tape, and that’s the only reason my schedule is busy,” he added. “I’m doing what I’ve been doing for seven years.”

Hogan’s term ends in January 2023 — and he is widely believed to have some interest in running for president in 2024, if he sees a remotely realistic path to the Republican nomination. Hogan has two political committees — An America United and Change Maryland — to buttress his political activities.

His handling of multiple crises — including civil unrest in Baltimore and the COVID-19 pandemic — coupled with his personal battle with cancer have earned him remarkably high job-approval numbers throughout his time in office.

He is consistently ranked as one of the most popular governors in the country, despite being a Republican in one of the most Democratic states.

Like his father, former congressman Larry Hogan Sr., the governor has been unafraid to buck his party on matters of principle. He was an early and outspoken critic of Donald Trump, and his pandemic response has hewed toward the advice of mainstream health and science experts.

On top of all that, Hogan’s campaigns and political action committees have never lacked for money.

Because of his standing, Hogan has been urged by GOP leaders in Annapolis and Washington, D.C., for many months to consider taking on Van Hollen, who is completing his first term.

There is a consensus in both parties that the 65-year-old governor is his party’s only real chance of being competitive against Van Hollen, who is riding a 31-year unbeaten streak since entering politics.

But the Democrat need not be concerned, Hogan said in the interview.

“Van Hollen should not lay awake at night, every night, worrying about me.”

Dirk Haire, the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, said Hogan’s public comments are consistent with what he has repeatedly said in private.

“It has never been my impression that the governor has ever had interest in running for the Senate,” Haire said. “Like most people, I think he would clearly be, by far, the strongest Republican candidate.”

“We would love to see him do it, but that’s not what I’m expecting to happen.”

Hogan ran a successful commercial real estate venture before running for governor, and many of the people who’ve spoken with him privately say the longtime executive is not drawn to legislative service.

“When you’re a business executive or a mayor or governor, legislating is a very different thing,” said Doug Heye, a D.C.-based Republican strategist and commentator. “You immediately become one of 100, and you start at the bottom.”

“If he ran and won, he would be ranked… at the very bottom of seniority, and given how the Senate has been over the past few years, the ability to get things done anyways is a lot tougher.”

Strategist Doug Mayer, a former Hogan communications director who keeps in regular touch with his former boss and still works for his political operations, said, “anyone who knows the two jobs knows that being governor is just much better and much more important than being senator — and moving from governor to senator is a kind of a letdown.”

D.C.-based Republicans are wooing Hogan to run for Senate because the chamber is currently split 50-50, and relatively few seats are thought to be competitive in 2022. A Hogan Senate candidacy would instantly make Maryland a tossup race and would change the overall national landscape.

Washingtonian reported in June that Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been among those attempting to gauge Hogan’s willingness to run.

“The minority leader has pretty aggressively reached out to him,” a source told the magazine. “It’s been communicated that there’ll be significant outside support if he were to run, and that there is an assessment that he is one of the only people that could give Republicans a chance at that seat.”

Mayer said national party leaders have demonstrated “significant interest” in a potential Hogan candidacy.

“Many, many people have talked to him about it. Many people have talked to his staff about it.”

Because of the governor’s success in battling cancer, Heye suggested that there is only so far McConnell and others can go in their outreach.

“I don’t know that you can put pressure on Larry Hogan,” he said. “His thought process is probably going to be a little bit different from other politicians because of that.”

Two Republicans who are unlikely to keep Van Hollen awake at night have filed for the Senate — Nnabu Eze, a Baltimore County resident whose campaign website appears to have expired, and Jon McGreevey, a resident of Baltimore City.

Haire acknowledged that toppling Van Hollen without Hogan in the race will be difficult. A Republican last won a U.S. Senate race in Maryland in 1980.

“We’ve been competitive in governors races. We’ve won three out of the last five” thanks in part to crossover support from Democrats, he said. “But [they] are less willing to cross over and vote for a [Republican] federal candidate.”

Van Hollen, who will be seeking his second term next year, won a House of Delegates seat in his first campaign in 1990 and has never lost an election.

Political strategist Sheila O’Connell, his 2016 campaign manager, called him a natural coalition builder “who takes nothing for granted.”

“He is incredibly driven, and a hard worker who cares about Marylanders, and that shows with his top-notch constituent service and innovative policy ideas,” she added. “You would be hard pressed to find someone who can out-work or out-think Senator Van Hollen.  He is tireless, determined, and passionate to find workable solutions for the problems that face Marylanders.”

The Montgomery County Democrat reported more than $3 million in his campaign account through June 30 and faces a primary challenge from Greenbelt Mayor Colin A. Byrd, a heavy underdog.

Hogan still has some time to change his mind. The filing deadline for next June’s primary is Feb. 22.

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report. 

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Bruce DePuyt
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.