Former Gov. Larry Hogan is a last-minute addition to the race for the open U.S. Senate seat in Maryland, launching his campaign hours before the filing deadline.

Hogan, a Republican, has previously shot down the idea of running for the Senate, saying he didn’t want to be mired in the gridlock of Capitol Hill. Instead, he’s had an off-and-on flirtation with running for president on a third-party effort.

“I am running for the United States Senate — not to serve one party — but to stand up to both parties, fight for Maryland, and fix our nation’s broken politics,” Hogan posted on social media. “It’s what I did as Maryland’s governor, and it’s exactly how I’ll serve Maryland in the Senate. Let’s get back to work.”

In a launch video, Hogan spoke about the need for lawmakers to work together to make progress, rather than engaging in the “performative arts” style of politics.

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He claimed that during his tenure as Maryland’s governor from 2015 through 2023, he worked in a bipartisan manner — an assertion that’s likely to be questioned by Democrats who often were at odds with the governor.

“For eight years, we proved that the toxic politics that divide our nation need not divide our state,” Hogan said in the video.

Hogan invoked his late father, Larry Hogan Sr., who was the first Republican member of Congress to support impeachment of President Richard Nixon.

“Today, Washington is completely broken because that kind of leadership, that kind of willingness to put country over party has become far too rare,” Hogan said in the video, standing in front of a bank of windows in a dress shirt and sport coat, sans tie.

Hogan’s surprise run for the Senate represents a change of course for a man who repeatedly said he had no interest in being in the Senate.

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Last year, for example, he told NewsNation: “You’re one of 100 people arguing all day, not a lot gets done in the Senate, and most former governors that I know that go into the Senate aren’t really thrilled with the job.”

In the year since his second term ended, Hogan has moved to a mansion in Davidsonville, maintained a regular presence on national TV interviews and visited universities to talk about politics. He’s also been running his eponymous real-estate company.

He weighed in on political issues through his advocacy group, An America United. And until he stepped down in December, Hogan was also a leader of No Labels, a centrist organization considering putting together a presidential ticket for 2024.

The Senate seat that Hogan is now running for is open due to the looming political retirement of longtime U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat. The Democratic primary immediately drew big names, including U.S. Rep. David Trone and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan after pulling down a cloth to reveal his portrait during the the hanging of his official portrait in the Governor's Reception Room, in Annapolis, Tuesday, January 10, 2023.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan after pulling down a cloth to reveal his portrait during the the hanging of his official portrait in the Governor’s Reception Room, in Annapolis, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

No Republicans with significant experience, funds or campaign apparatus initially got into the race, leading political prognosticators to label it a safe seat for Democrats. With Hogan’s entry into the race, Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia moved the race from the “safe Democratic” category into the “likely Democratic” category — a subtle but important acknowledgement of Hogan’s popularity in Maryland and his campaigning and fundraising prowess.

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While Hogan was successful twice in winning Maryland’s governorship, he faces a more difficult challenge trying to win a U.S. Senate race, said Goucher College’s Mileah Kromer, who wrote a book about Hogan called “Blue-State Republican: How Larry Hogan Won Where Republicans Lose and Lessons for a Future GOP.”

As a gubernatorial candidate, he cultivated cross-party appeal on issues like avoiding tax increases and boosting the economy, Kromer said. When Maryland voters consider their next U.S. senator — as the control of the chamber hangs in the balance — they’ll want answers on his position on abortion and confirming U.S. Supreme Court justices.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” Kromer said. “That said, I don’t think Hogan gets into a race where there is no path to victory. And you don’t discount a two-term governor who has maintained a high approval rating.”

Hogan’s approval rating stood at 62% the final time that Kromer polled Marylanders about him in late 2022, just before he left office. His approval peaked at 71% in fall of 2020.

But Maryland has not elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1980, when Charles “Mac” Mathias won a third term. The closest Senate race in recent history was Cardin’s 10 percentage point victory over former GOP Lt. Gov. Michael Steele in 2006.

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Maryland’s electorate is 54% Democrats, 24% Republicans and 22% unaffiliated or belonging to third parties. Hogan successfully put together a coalition of Republicans, independents and crossover Democrats to win statewide twice, despite the Democratic voter registration edge.

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Democrats immediately seized on Hogan as a foe, even as they have their own competitive primary under way between Alsobrooks and Trone. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee put out a statement asserting that Hogan would support a national abortion ban, hitting on a key issue that motivates Democratic voters.

“A vote for Republican Larry Hogan is a vote to make Mitch McConnell Majority Leader and turn the Senate over to Republicans so they can pass a national abortion ban,” read the statement from DSCC spokesperson Maeve Coyle. “Democrats have won every statewide federal election in Maryland for 44 years and 2024 will be no different.”

While governor, Hogan largely sidestepped questions about abortion, saying he would not seek to change Maryland’s laws. But when state lawmakers set aside extra money in 2022 to train medical providers in abortion care, Hogan exercised his option not to spend the money. He also vetoed a bill that expanded which providers could offer abortions.

The veto was later overturned and the next governor, Democrat Wes Moore, released the training money.

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Trone quickly issued a statement: “Larry Hogan’s candidacy is nothing but a desperate attempt to return Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump to power and give them the deciding vote to ban abortion nationwide, suppress votes across the country, and give massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.”

Trone’s statement criticized some of Hogan’s policies as governor and asserted: “He talks about putting politics aside but spent his entire tenure as governor waging partisan attacks through bad policy.”

Meanwhile, Alsobrooks’ campaign blasted out a fundraising text message to supporters, calling Hogan’s entrance into the race “a five alarm fire.”

“We can’t let an anti-choice Republican flip this seat if we want Democrats to keep the Senate!” the text message read.

Seven other Republicans had filed for the race by mid-afternoon: Moe H. Barakat, Chris Chaffee, Robin Ficker, Lorie R. Friend, John A. Myrick, Laban Y. Seyoum and John Teichert.

Hogan’s candidacy was first reported Friday morning by Politico.

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County. 

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