Abortion Rights Could Complicate Republican Larry Hogan’s US Senate Bid

Annapolis, Maryland — Republicans hoping to pick up an open U.S. Senate seat in deep blue Maryland have the most competitive candidate they’ve fielded for decades. But former Gov. Larry Hogan will need more than GOP support to overcome sustained outrage about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down constitutional protections for abortion.

With Maryland voters set to decide whether to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution in November, it may be harder for Hogan to reassemble the bipartisan coalition that elected him to the governor’s office in 2014 and kept him there four years later.

His task was laid out vividly by Lynn Johnson Langer, a Democrat walking to lunch in downtown Annapolis several days after Hogan announced his Senate bid. Hogan is likable enough to have won her vote in his second campaign for governor, but the stakes are too high for her to support handing Republicans another win in a closely divided Senate.

“We need more Democrats, so, sorry Hogan,” Langer said. ”I don’t think he’s a bad guy. Like I said, I don’t always agree with him. In fact, a lot I don’t agree with him.”

Hogan’s decision to veto legislation to expand abortion access in Maryland in 2022 lingers with voters like Langer. She supports abortion rights unequivocally and said she probably will back a candidate who doesn’t hedge.

Hogan has said he does not support taking abortion rights away, even though he personally opposes abortion. However, as governor, he vetoed legislation to end a restriction that only physicians provide abortions. When his veto was overridden by Democrats who control the Legislature, he used the power of his office to block funding set aside to support training non-physicians to perform them.

Abortion already is protected in Maryland law, but Democrats who control the Legislature voted last year to put a state constitutional amendment before voters. In doing so they were following a proven political formula used successfully by several states in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision.

“This is an issue the Democrats care about, and this is a big thing about Maryland: It doesn’t matter how popular you are with your base, and it doesn’t matter how popular you are among independents, the path to the Senate in Maryland goes through the Democratic Party,” said Mileah Kromer, an associate professor of political science at Goucher College, who has written a book about Hogan. “You need Democratic votes to win, and that’s just the math of the state.”

Hogan attracted national attention during his tenure as governor as one of the rare Republicans willing to criticize Donald Trump, who appointed three conservative justices that created the Supreme Court’s conservative majority that voted to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022. Now, Hogan could be on the same ballot as the former president, who is favored to win the Republican nomination but is deeply unpopular in Maryland.

Mary Kfoury, a Democrat who lives in Edgewater, Maryland, praised Hogan for speaking out against Trump, though that’s not enough to get her vote.

“I really don’t think we can afford to have a Republican,” Kfoury said. “I want to keep Maryland as blue as possible, especially with things as close as they are, but I think if we had to have a Republican in the Senate he would be a terrific person to have, because he truly states what he thinks and he’s for more traditional Republican values and has bravely spoken against Trump.”

Hogan focused his governorship on pocketbook concerns, largely avoiding social issues and maintaining civility with the Legislature. In a video announcing his candidacy, he highlighted that aspect of his tenure.

“For eight years, we proved that the toxic politics that divide our nation need not divide our state,” Hogan said. “We overcame unprecedented challenges, cut taxes eight years in a row, balanced the budget, and created a record surplus. And we did it all by finding common ground for the common good.”

While Kromer describes Hogan’s Senate candidacy as “an uphill battle,” she said it would be wrong to dismiss a candidate who consistently maintained high approval ratings during his eight years as governor, despite the 2-1 advantage Democrats hold over Republicans in the state.

“For me, it’s not just that Hogan was popular, it was that Hogan was persistently popular for eight years,” said Kromer, who wrote “Blue State Republican: How Larry Hogan Won Where Republicans Lose and Lessons for a Future GOP.”

Democrats running to succeed retiring Sen. Ben Cardin pounced on concerns about abortion rights, after Hogan announced his surprise Senate bid just hours before the state’s filing deadline.

“We know what’s at stake in this election — our fundamental freedoms over our bodies,” said Angela Alsobrooks, the chief executive in Prince George’s County, the state’s second-largest jurisdiction in the suburbs of the nation’s capital.

Alsobrooks, who could make history as Maryland’s first Black U.S. senator, is running in the Democratic primary against U.S. Rep David Trone, the wealthy founder of Total Wine and More who has invested more than $23 million in his own campaign.

Hogan, speaking publicly for the first time since announcing his candidacy last week, told CNN on Wednesday that “I would not vote to support a national abortion ban.”

He also said that while he understands “why this is such an important and emotional issue for women across Maryland and across the country,” he doesn’t believe the constitutional amendment in Maryland is necessary, because abortion rights already are protected in state law.

The state approved legislation in 1991 to protect abortion rights if the Supreme Court were to allow abortion to be restricted. Voters showed their support for the law the following year, when 62% backed it in a referendum.

“I think Democrats put this on the ballot to try to make it a political issue, and voters can make their decision on whether they think it’s important or not, but it’s not going to change anything in our state,” Hogan told CNN.

Alsobrooks said Hogan’s comments echoed years of Republican rhetoric asserting that public policy on abortion had been “settled law.”

“That’s what they told us right up until the day they overturned Roe v. Wade and took away a 50-year precedent that had protected our rights,” Alsobrooks said in a statement.

The Maryland legislation approved in 2022 to expand abortion access was passed after supporters contended the measure was needed because the state didn’t have enough providers. They also said the state needed to be prepared to respond to a growing number of women coming to Maryland for abortions after bans in other states.

After his veto was overridden, Hogan, who is Catholic, refused to release $3.5 million in the state budget to help fund training. One of Democratic Gov. Wes Moore’s first actions as governor last year was to release the money that Hogan had withheld.

Hogan entered a GOP primary with seven other candidates, none as well known politically as the former governor. One of the candidates, Robin Ficker, garnered national attention years ago as an acid-tongued sports heckler at basketball games for Washington’s NBA team when it played in Landover, Maryland.

A Republican has not won a U.S. Senate election in Maryland since 1980.

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