With his easy victory in Tuesday’s Republican primary election, Gov. Larry Hogan has a chance to do what no one has done over the past six decades. He could become the first Republican since Theodore McKeldin to win election to a second term as Maryland’s governor.
Hell, it’s tough enough for a Republican to get elected to a first term in this state.
McKeldin, a liberal Republican when such a species still existed, served from 1951 to 1959. How far back was it? Far enough back that Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Far enough back that the Baltimore Orioles didn’t even exist in McKeldin’s first couple of years in office — or the Colts, either. Far enough back that Nancy Pelosi was still a little schoolgirl named Nancy D’Alesandro.
That’s how far back.
Republican Spiro Agnew came along eight years after McKeldin but only served a couple of years before Richard Nixon snatched him away to run for vice president.
As governor, Agnew quietly employed a practice widely known as breaking the law. He routinely took money under the table, a habit he found so profitable that he kept doing it as vice president, until federal prosecutors forced him to resign from office.
That experience left such a good impression on Maryland voters that we didn’t get another Republican governor until Robert Ehrlich, a full three decades after Agnew departed from political life. Ehrlich served one term, best described as wasted.
When voters took a look at Ehrlich’s record, they made him the only sitting governor in the entire nation that year who failed to get reelected.
So that’s the modern history of Republicans running for governor of Maryland. Hogan will run for reelection against Democrat Ben Jealous, best known for his tenure as national president of the NAACP.
It is generally believed that Hogan’s in pretty good political shape. In this majority Democratic state, he has avoided the taint of President Donald Trump and is generally described as one of the nation’s most popular GOP governors.
But politically, Maryland generally plays like two different states. The Democrats tend to control the big population centers – much of the Baltimore area and Montgomery and Prince Georges counties – while the rest of the state trends Republican and conservative.
Hogan’s strength is that he’s not a doctrinaire conservative but seems more centrist. There are plenty of Democrats who say they can live with that. His weakness is raw party affiliation numbers – and that powerful pull of history in which it’s tough for Republicans running for governor, especially when they want a second term.
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,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, is now in paperback.