Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans are stepping up a personal campaign to persuade Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to run for Senate and help the party regain control of the House.
The recruiting effort has included McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who held cabinet posts in the Trump and George W. Bush administrations. Moderate Senate Republicans, including Susan Collins of Maine, have also been in direct contact with Hogan to point out that his kind of centrist politics would be welcome in a chamber divided by partisanship. Several other Washington officials have made financial pledges or shared internal polls to try to convince Hogan that he has a path to victory.
President Joe Biden topped Maryland by 32 percentage points in 2020 and a Republican has not won a federal office statewide in more than 30 years. Hogan, who is prevented by term limits from running for reelection, has long resisted the idea of challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. Hogan, one of the most prominent critics of former President Donald Trump’s Republican Party, has toyed with mounting a presidential campaign in 2024.
Still, his willingness to engage recently with high-profile recruiters suggests that Hogan has not ruled out a Senate run. If he were instead to run for the Senate, he would force Democrats to devote money and other resources to a long-standing blue state at a time when they are already preparing for a difficult campaign season across the country.
Hogan said Tuesday that he remains focused on his job as governor.
“I don’t have a burning desire to serve in the US Senate, and I have a burning desire to continue to focus on this job fully every day, and that’s what we’re doing,” Hogan said when asked. about your future plans. in a press conference on the tax relief proposals to be held in the state legislative session.
Regarding a possible presidential candidacy, Hogan said “there is a lot of time to worry about that.”
“We just started 2022,” Hogan said. “We certainly don’t have to start talking about 2024.”
The recruiting effort was described by several people with direct knowledge of the conversations. They requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Hogan’s decision, due to arrive before the February 22 filing deadline, is among the last major unanswered questions as the Senate landscape begins to settle heading into the first cycle of midterm elections. of the Biden presidency.
Publicly, Democrats remain confident in their position in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
“Our campaign is fully prepared for anyone Mitch McConnell recruits to run here,” said Van Hollen spokesman Keith Presley. “Senator Van Hollen is busy working to get results for the people of Maryland and to protect our democracy.”
For their part, McConnell and Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who heads the Senate campaign arm of the Republican Party, have had multiple recruiting talks with Hogan in recent months. McConnell’s lieutenant Steven Law, who runs a McConnell-ally super PAC, also spoke with the Republican governor.
More recently, however, the GOP’s recruiting drive has become more personal.
As Hogan was unconvinced by McConnell’s proposals, Chao encouraged a Senate run during a private lunch with Hogan’s wife at the Maryland governor’s mansion, which Hogan briefly attended. Chao was scheduled to take her father for another private lunch with Ms. Hogan, although it was canceled due to concerns about COVID-19.
During lunch, Chao emphasized the sense of community on Capitol Hill with the families of the other senators. He also appealed to Ms. Hogan’s sense of patriotism, presenting the Senate as a great way for the Hogans to serve their country. Chao and Yumi Hogan, both prominent Asian Americans, were friends before the Senate race came into the limelight.
At the same time, a handful of Republican senators, including Collins, have reached out directly to Hogan to encourage him to run. And more than one suitor, including at least one Republican governor, has argued that the Senate could be a springboard for a future presidential bid, which Hogan has openly contemplated.
Those close to Hogan are skeptical that he will ultimately decide to run for Senate. So far, he has done nothing to prepare for a Senate campaign other than agree to speak with his Republican recruiters.
Washington Republicans are betting Hogan could break his losing streak in Maryland. He has already won a state office twice, including in 2018, an election year that favored Democrats nationally. He has enjoyed strong approval ratings throughout his time in office.
But history suggests that the appeal in state elections may not transfer to a higher office. Two-term former Montana Governor Steve Bullock was a prized Democratic Senate recruit in 2020 who lost his race by 10 percentage points in a campaign dominated by national issues.
Facing similarly deplorable and dynamic partisanship in Washington, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu resisted an aggressive lobbying push from McConnell and his allies in November, instead announcing plans to seek another term as governor.
If Hogan races, his team knows it will be tested like never before.
For example, he has so far largely avoided the taint of a developing ethics scandal involving his former chief of staff, Roy McGrath, who faces multiple state and federal criminal charges related to a severance package he sought when he left the position. chief at a quasi-public state agency to serve as Hogan’s chief aide.
The complicated situation is just the kind of political ammunition that critics of both parties could use to attack Hogan in a well-funded television ad campaign.
“The fact that Hogan voted to make Mitch McConnell Majority Leader and hand over the Senate to the Republicans, along with his mounting corruption and ethics scandals, would provide voters with more than enough reason to reject his campaign outright.” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. “If you run, all you will do is join the 40-year long history of Republicans losing federal elections across the state of Maryland.”