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Election 2024 Government & Politics

GOP primary feels like a warmup for Hogan ahead of rare consequential general election for Senate

Larry Hogan and Robin Ficker.
Former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Robin Ficker (left) at a 2018 rally as Hogan ran for his final term as governor. Ficker, who was the GOP nominee for Montgomery County executive at the time, was eager to cozy up to Hogan then. Now, he’s positioning himself as the anti-Hogan in the GOP senate primary. File photo.

Republican voters in Maryland head to the polls with an opportunity to choose a candidate to represent the party in what could be one of the most competitive Senate campaigns in recent memory.

Despite a field of more than a half-dozen candidates, the Republican primary has lacked the heat of its Democratic counterpart. Even so, the state’s minority party by registration has a puncher’s chance of claiming the seat come November.

“If you’re a Marylander, and you’re even mildly interested in politics, sit back and enjoy the fact that for the first time since the 1980s, we’re actually going to have a competitive Senate race in the state of Maryland,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “Not only a competitive Senate race, but a Senate race that quite possibly could determine who controls the chamber. If you had told me a year ago that Maryland would possibly be in that situation. I just would have chuckled and walked away.”

No Maryland Republican has held a U.S. Senate Seat in nearly four decades. The last to do so was Charles McC. Mathias Jr., who retired in 1987.

The retirement of three-term Sen. Ben Cardin (D) has some Republicans — and even some Democrats — believing the drought could soon end.

The field of seven Republicans includes a former two-term governor, a candidate running his 22nd campaign, and another who was his party’s nominee for U.S. Senate in 2022.

Of those, former Gov. Larry Hogan and Robin Ficker, a disbarred attorney and former state delegate, have moved to the head of the pack by virtue of fundraising and television ad campaigns.

Hogan remains popular even two years out of office. His Senate campaign attempts to capitalize on the “purple” independent Republican branding that made him the first two-term Republican to lead the state since Theodore McKeldin.

“Right now, if you turn on your TV, you’ll see one ad attacking me from the left, and another attacking me from the right,” Hogan says in a recent video. “The reason why both sides are attacking me is because I’m a threat to status quo politics as usual in Washington. I’m not running to serve one party. I’m running to fight for Maryland and fix the broken politics, just like I did as your governor.”

Hogan, who has significant experience as a statewide candidate, has crisscrossed the state on a bus tour. He’s also well-funded for the primary, raising over $3.1 million between mid-February and March 31.

Ficker most recently finished a distant third in the 2022 Republican primary for Maryland governor.

Ficker, according to recent reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission, loaned his own campaign nearly $4.2 million while collecting about $10,000 in contributions.

His campaign against Hogan includes promises to lure far-right voters by promising to be an ally to Donald Trump, should he be successful in his bid to regain the White House.

Hogan has repeatedly criticized Trump over the last decade and considered a run for president. This is the first time both Hogan and Trump have appeared on the ballot together.

Ficker’s message is an effort to test the theory that Republican primary voters, who tend to be both the most enthusiastic and most partisan, would not back Hogan.

“It is wrong to say that Republicans don’t like Larry Hogan. It’s just incorrect.” said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College and directeor of The Goucher Poll. “There are some Republicans…the really hardcore big time Trump supporters, who don’t like him. I think that that’s absolutely true. But the rank and file Republicans, I mean, he has a pretty strong approval rating among them.”

So far, Trump has yet to inject himself into the race.

Two years ago, Trump backed Dan Cox in the Republican gubernatorial primaryy over Kelly Schulz, whom Hogan endorsed.

Cox won the Trump-Hogan proxy fight only to lose the general election to now-Gov. Wes Moore (D) in a 32-point drubbing .

Eberly said Republicans “broke with Hogan-ism. They nominated a MAGA candidate, which is also what Ficker clearly wants to be, and they wound up being blown out on the water. So at some point, you would think people would start to ask themselves: do we want to win or do we want to be embarrassed by an overwhelming margin once again? And in this case, you’re talking about what could make the difference between controlling the Senate or not controlling the Senate.”

Polling suggests that the Ficker-Hogan horse race may be less than it appears.

The few public polls taken on the Republican primary show Hogan way out in front. Kromer said there’s little reason to believe those polls are wrong or missing an undercurrent of anti-Hogan sentiment.

“Polls are a snapshot in time,” said Kromer. “Where the race is now isn’t necessarily where we’re all being on election day.”

Even so, she said it’s unlikely that the available polling is wrong.

“It’s one thing to miss by a couple of points or even by 10, but are polls 20 points wrong, 30 points wrong? No, they are not,” said Kromer. “That just seems like a lot. Especially considering that honestly there has not been that much campaign activity.”

And while the primary has yet to be decided, Angela Alsobrooks and David Trone, leading contenders in the Democratic Primary, are promoting themselves as the Democrat best positioned to defeat Hogan in a general election contest.

“If Democrats thought for a second they would have a chance to run against Robin Ficker, they would probably love that opportunity,” said Kromer.

Also in the GOP race:

Moe H. Barakat is the managing director of the United States-Qatar Business Council and lives in Montgomery County. Barakat reported raising more than $1,100 in the most recent filing with the Federal Elections Commission.

Chris Chaffee, was the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in 2022 and also ran in 2016. The contractor, who lives in Calvert County, has not filed any fundraising information with the FEC.

Lorie R. Friend, a registered nurse who lives in western Maryland, returns for her second shot at a seat in the U.S. Capitol since 2022. She finished second in the 2022 U.S. Senate Republican primary. As of the end March, Friend reported raising $727 for her campaign of which $376 was a loan the candidate made to her own campaign.

John A. Myrick, a former Harford County deputy sheriff and 23-year veteran of the United States Air Force Reserves reported raising nearly $5,200 as of the most recent report filed with the Federal Elections Commission in March.

Laban Y. Seyoum is a relative unknown in politics. The Prince George’s County resident has no website, no contact information and no campaign social media accounts. There was no fundraising information available from the FEC.

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GOP primary feels like a warmup for Hogan ahead of rare consequential general election for Senate