Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican, has announced that he will not run as a GOP challenger against Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), dashing hopes that the seat could be flipped.
Because Hogan’s second term—the final term allowed to him under the Maryland state constitution—ends in 2023, and because of his significant popularity in the otherwise blue state, some Republicans saw a unique opportunity to flip the seat.
If Hogan had run and won the race, it would be a historic reversal.
In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton received 60.33 percent of the vote, compared to only 33.91 percent for Trump. In the 2020 election, Trump fared even worse, receiving only 32.15 percent of the vote compared to Biden’s 65.36 percent.
The state has not elected a Republican to the Senate in over four decades. Its last GOP senator, the late Charles Mathias, was reelected to a final term in 1980; since then, Maryland’s two U.S. Senate seats have remained solidly in the hands of Democrats.
Still, while Democrats perform exceedingly well in Maryland’s national elections, state-level elections there are, as in other states, more nuanced.
Despite Maryland’s heavily Democrat-leaning political landscape, Hogan was elected as governor in the state by an approximately four point margin in 2014. In 2018, Hogan ran for and won a second term, receiving an impressive 12-point lead. Still, few other state-level Republicans have had such success.
As such, Van Hollen had little to fear under normal electoral circumstances. But Republicans and Democrats alike recognized that Hogan could throw a wrench into Van Hollen’s reelection campaign, and could have turned his easy glide to reelection into a tense, politically-fraught battle.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Hogan made the announcement that he would not pursue the option. He thanked “the people who have been encouraging me to consider it.”
“But,” he continued, “as I have repeatedly said, I don’t aspire to be a senator, and that fact has not changed.”
Hogan’s final decision does not come as a surprise as he has made clear in the past that he was not considering it very seriously.
“It’s not something that I’m really taking a serious look at,” Hogan said on CNN’s “State of the Union” when asked if he would run for the Senate.
Though his centrist political positions were a necessary ingredient for victory in Maryland, they may have been more polarizing if Hogan had moved into the arena of national politics.
In Oct. 2018, shortly before he was reelected as governor, Hogan signed a law that significantly restricted gun ownership in the state. In addition to barring convicted domestic abusers from owning firearms, the bill controversially banned bump stocks, a rifle attachment which stabilizes the gun and can help to increase its rate of fire, depending in part on the experience and skill of the user.
After signing the law, Hogan made a public break with the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has itself been criticized by gun rights activists for its historical acquiescence to regulations that many other gun rights groups argue violate the 2nd amendment.
Though he was endorsed by the NRA in 2014, Hogan said that he would not accept an endorsement from the group in 2018.
Hogan has also often broken with President Donald Trump over immigration issues.
Hogan criticized Trump’s efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a holdover from President Barack Obama’s time in office. Critics of the policy have argued that the program, which came into being through an executive action rather than through the legislature, was an illegal use of presidential power.
Hogan also recalled Maryland National Guard troops from the U.S. border with Mexico over disagreements with the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.
Hogan has also said that while he opposes abortion, he would make no effort to change abortion law. As early as the 1990s, well before some Democrats had accepted abortion, Hogan is on the record stating that he does not think that abortion should be outlawed.
These attitudes, while perhaps necessary ones to win moderate Marylanders, put Hogan in stark contrast to many other Republicans. If he had run for the Senate, his position on these and other issues likely would have spawned significant criticism from other Republicans, and could have left Hogan ostracized from the party.
Still, Hogan could have been a welcome improvement over Van Hollen for Republicans, particularly ahead of a Senate race that is expected to be slightly favorable to Democrats.
In November 34 senators, including 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats, are up for election or reelection.
Despite wide expectations that the GOP will take back the House, the battle for the Senate will be a tough one for both parties.
Democrats are desperate not to find themselves in another evenly split Senate during the 118th Congress. Since neither Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) nor Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are up for reelection in November—the moderate duo has brought to a halt many of the Democrats’ most expansive political aspirations during the 117th Congress—Democrats will need to pick up a net gain of two seats in November to meet their political goals.
Republicans are just as desperate to avoid this scenario, which would potentially allow Democrats to overturn the filibuster and pass wide-reaching legislation. To retake the majority, they need only a net gain of one seat—but they also have several more seats on the defensive than Democrats.