Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan inched a slight bit closer to entering the race for president, telling a crowd of supporters on Wednesday that he’ll make a decision after he ends his tenure as governor in January.

“Next year, I’m going to sit down and talk to my family and talk to my friends and determine how I can best serve our great nation,” the Republican governor said to an appreciative crowd at his Governor’s Celebration gala in Anne Arundel County.

Hogan has been flirting with the idea of running for president going back to 2019, when some pressed him to challenge then-President Donald J. Trump in the 2020 election. Hogan turned down that opportunity, but has been taking several steps toward a possible 2024 run, including publishing a memoir, traveling to early primary states and giving speeches and interviews about the need for less divisiveness in politics.

“I understand there has been some speculation about my future,” Hogan said to cheers. “So, I’m not going to be making any announcements tonight.” That was followed by a few good-natured boos from disappointed supporters.

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“I think you all know that I do care very deeply about the country and I’ve never been more concerned about the direction of our nation,” Hogan said. “What I can tell you tonight is that I am not about to give up on the Republican Party or on America. None of us can. It’s too important.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan delivers a speech at the Governor’s Celebration gala held at Live! Casino and Hotel on Nov. 30, 2022. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Hogan paced the stage as he spoke and never mentioned the presidency directly. But with columns of red, white and blue balloons flanking the stage, the subtext was clear.

Pressed by reporters after his remarks for more details on his decision-making timeline, Hogan stuck to his wait-and-see script.

“You know, I told everybody over and over again that I’m going to finish my job as governor in January. And I meant that, I usually say exactly what I mean,” he said. “But some time next year. There’s no real time frame, we’re just going to take a look.”

The governor’s event was advertised as both an event to “celebrate eight successful years” as well as to “look forward to the future.”

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The gala was put on at the Live! Casino and Hotel in Hanover by An America United, Hogan’s advocacy organization that’s been sponsoring the governor’s political travels across the country. But the event also featured a high-dollar VIP reception with proceeds going to Hogan’s federal political action committee, the Better Path Forward PAC.

Hogan told reporters that he sold out both the PAC VIP reception, with 360 people, and the main gala.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan mingles with crowd attendees at the Governor’s Celebration gala held at Live! Casino and Hotel on Nov. 30, 2022. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

“There’s an awful lot of people asking us to consider the possibility of a continuation in politics,” Hogan said. “And I would say tonight, 1,700 people gave us 1.2 million reasons why we should consider staying in politics.”

Over the past year, Hogan’s PAC has raised about $179,000 and spent about $44,000 on fundraising expenses and a smattering of donations to other candidates, according to federal reports.

As guests awaited the governor, they milled about the event space and sipped wine and cocktails as a band played “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. Three large video screens above the stage flashed pictures from Hogan’s years as governor, from his snowy first inauguration in 2015 to parades and press conferences.

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A 10-minute retrospective video highlighting Hogan’s gubernatorial career played for the crowd, touching on the 2015 unrest in Baltimore, his cancer journey, his historic reelection, managing the coronavirus pandemic response and sending police and National Guard members to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“The future is still to be decided,” Hogan said at the end of the video. “Stay tuned.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks with reporters after delivering a speech at the Governor’s Celebration gala held at Live! Casino and Hotel on Nov. 30, 2022. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Earlier in the day, Hogan and An America United hosted a closed-door “leadership summit” featuring big conservative names, including: Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state; Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor of California; Ben Carson, the former housing secretary and famed Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon; and Steve Case, the founder of AOL.

At the summit, Republican strategist Russ Schriefer, a longtime Hogan adviser, moderated a panel about the midterm election results. Dane Linn from the Business Roundtable, an advocacy organization for CEOs, led a discussion of business issues.

As Hogan has contemplated a 2024 run, he has often said publicly, especially in Maryland, that he plans to “run through the tape” and continue working for Marylanders through the end of his tenure as governor on Jan. 18.

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But as Hogan makes the rounds of candidate-vetting events and cable TV shows, he clearly has life beyond the governorship on his mind. He’s been pitching a vision of a less divisive political climate and less extreme Republican Party — and he makes clear he wants to be involved in national politics.

After the fall election in which Republicans didn’t live up to expectations, Hogan went on CNN to criticize the GOP for failing to focus on issues such as the economy, education and crime, which he said could have led to electoral victories.

Too many Republicans, he said, focused instead on election conspiracies and “things the voters didn’t care about.”

Hogan laid the blame on Trump, whom he said has cost Republicans three elections in a row now: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, and Donald Trump kept saying, ‘We’re going to be winning so much we’re going to get tired of winning,’” Hogan said. “I’m tired of losing. I mean, that’s all he’s done.”

Part of what Hogan is “trying to find out” in his travels, he has said, is whether there’s a path for him to win a Republican primary for president. If several candidates are vying for the attention of the Trump/Make America Great Again voters, could Hogan have a chance as perhaps the only non-Trump/MAGA candidate?

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The potential lane for a non-Trump candidate is “much bigger” now than it was before the election, Hogan recently told Fox News.

So far, Hogan has barely registered on various polls testing potential Republican presidential candidates.

The failure of many Trump-endorsed candidates — including Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox here in Maryland — in the most recent election could bode well for a non-Trump-aligned presidential hopeful like Hogan, said J. Miles Coleman, an assistant editor for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“These elections were very disappointing for Trump,” Coleman said. “Trump doesn’t seem to be inevitable as he looked shortly after he left office. Hogan’s going to have to capitalize on that.”

So far, based on polling, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis seems to be the best positioned to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024. But the primaries and caucuses are a long way off, and if there are many candidates in the field, there could be volatility that could benefit lesser-known candidates, including Hogan.

“I think there’s going to be a number of Republicans who are shopping around for their options,” Coleman said.

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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