Within days after last June’s primary, pollsters had written off Republican Larry Hogan in his race against Lt. Governor Anthony Brown. But somehow, Hogan pulled off a stunning upset, capturing more than 51 percent of the vote for governor in one of the bluest states in the nation.
He did it by running a good campaign and out hustling Brown, who "acted as if this was a coronation," said Melissa Deckman, chair of the political science department at Washington College in Chestertown. Marylanders are dissatisfied with the status quo and "very cranky," which gave Hogan an opportunity, she said. "Republicans were genuinely excited for Hogan. Whereas Brown was kind of a 'meh' candidate - he was just sort of middling and not very exciting," she said. He never gave voters a good reason to vote for him.
So, the Republican candidate saw an opportunity, she said. He rolled the dice and used Maryland's public campaign finance funds. It capped how much his campaign could raise, but also gave him an infusion of money immediately after the primary. "It was smart and shrewd for him to do that," Deckman said. It wasn't as if the Maryland Republican party was well organized, nor did it have deep pockets, she said. Hogan wasn’t going to get much money there.
So, the Hogan team chugged on through the summer, still trailing Brown, but closing the gap, according to Hogan's internal polls.
Todd Eberly, chair of the political science department at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Hogan was gaining traction as fall approached. “The debates helped a lot. Hogan held his own,” he said. "And people started to think he had a chance here."
Then Hogan's momentum drew attention from national Republican heavyweights, Eberly said. New Jersey Governor, Republican Chris Christie hopped on Hogan's campaign trail. And the Republican Governors Association raised money for Hogan as well.
Come Election Day, Brown took Baltimore City and the Washington D.C. suburbs, as expected. But Hogan handily won the Republican counties and won big time in swing counties. He took Howard County - even though County Executive Ken Ulman was on Brown’s ticket. And he took Baltimore County with almost sixty percent of the vote.
Mileah Kromer from Goucher College said throughout the campaign, Hogan repeatedly told the voters they pay too much in taxes.. And that is what moderate Democrats and independents wanted to talk about.
At the same time, there was a mismatch between what the voters were saying and what the Brown campaign was delivering. "It was clear from the Goucher poll, The [Baltimore] Sun poll, and The Washington Post poll that the number one issue for Marylanders was the economy, the economy, the economy," Kromer said. "And the Brown campaign continued to make the election about guns and reproductive rights." In the end, Hogan got independents to lean right and flipped moderate Democrats, Kromer said.
Even though his internal polls showed him with a lead late in the campaign, Hogan seemed surprised at a press conference the morning after his victory. He said, "[his campaign team] set vote goals that were nearly impossible to attain in every county in the state and we blew past all of them."
So what does this say about the future of the state? Is Maryland turning red?
Kromer, who runs the Goucher poll as well as teaches political science, said one election doesn’t turn a state away from a political party. But, she said, it may make it easier for future Republican candidates. "Voting is habitual. And once you vote for a Republican one time, it becomes easier to do it again." She said that trend can perpetuate itself unless the Democrats make a stronger showing in the next election.