From the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Larry Hogan can count poll numbers this week all the way down in Virginia and they cannot fill this Republican governor with happiness.
On Tuesday, Virginia voters elected a Democratic governor. They also defied virtually all expectations by flipping so many seats in their House of Delegates that, pending final vote counts, they may have won Democratic control of it.
Naturally, President Donald Trump found a reason to absolve himself of any blame in such party defeat. He said that Republican candidate Ed Gillespie didn’t identify himself closely enough with the nation’s Glorious Leader.
Trump thus finds himself in a minority position of one.
Gillespie wrapped himself in Trumpian language. He said Virginia should hold onto its statues venerating Confederate heroes of the Civil War. He echoed Trump anti-immigration rhetoric. He even ran ads about Hispanic gang members.
And what was the result of embracing such positions? Virginia exit polls indicate that twice as many people used their vote to send an anti-Trump message as those who said they wanted to convey a message of support for the president.
And among women, minorities and college-educated voters – who make up 59 percent of Virginia’s electorate – they gave Democratic winner Ralph S. Northam a stunning 19-point advantage.
What’s all this got to do with Larry Hogan, poring over the Virginia results from the State House? In a way, not so much.
In a way, a lot.
Hogan’s kept an aesthetic distance from Trump. Most voters see Hogan as a moderate whose language has been temperate. A Washington Post profile called the governor “The Un-Trump.”
But that doesn’t mean Democrats won’t come after him at election time and try to link his name with this president whose poll numbers have him running at about 38 percent approval.
And what that does is force Hogan to get specific – perhaps uncomfortably specific – about issues embraced by Trump that Hogan wishes to set aside. He knows Maryland is a traditionally Democratic state, but he also knows he can’t win without conservatives living outside the state’s big population centers, many of whom continue to support Trump.
Fifteen years ago, when Robert Ehrlich became the first Republican elected governor of Maryland in nearly four decades, he quickly found out the facts of life. He was defeated in his bid for re-election by Martin O’Malley – and thus became the only sitting governor to lose that year across the entire country.
So Gov. Larry Hogan will prepare himself for re-election with poll numbers showing pretty good marks from voters in both parties. But he’s got a tricky balancing act that just became clearer in the aftermath of Virginia’s vote.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.
Top Photo: Last year, Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem about cancer treatments between Israeli and Maryland hospitals. (File photo)
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