Turned off by Trump, Maryland’s GOP governor casts write-in vote for Ronald Reagan

By and Erin Cox,

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said he “voted for Ronald Reagan” in this year’s election, writing in the name of the late president and conservative icon after concluding that he could support neither President Trump nor Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Hogan’s latest rejection of his party’s standard-bearer comes as he works to expand his political network nationwide ahead of a possible 2024 presidential bid, with a flurry of fundraisers this month for GOP candidates from Vermont to Nebraska who also cast themselves as pragmatic Republicans.

Many of the candidates Hogan is backing frequently come from centrist enclaves or suburban areas where the governor said he “could help a little bit and show Democrats the kind of Republican they can feel comfortable voting for.”

Last month, Hogan endorsed and filmed ads for Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), a New England Republican who is in a tough race. On Thursday, he held a virtual fundraiser for Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

On Oct. 22, he and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) — who also isn’t voting for the president — will hold a virtual town hall for Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R), who supported the Trump impeachment probe and has said Trump “abused his powers” and should not be in office.

[President Trump, Joe Biden clash in distant, dueling town halls]

The efforts are a sharp departure from Hogan’s previous five years in public office, when he has mostly eschewed national campaigns and offered only limited backing of Republican candidates in his own state.

Until this week, Hogan, who is term-limited, had been coy about who he’d support in the presidential election, telling radio host Hugh Hewitt in July that he needed to “spend a little more time” on his decision.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, the governor said he voted by mail last week. He said he wrote Reagan’s name on his ballot because he wanted to make a statement and felt he could in a state where the president is deeply unpopular, and Biden led a recent poll by 30 percentage points.

Hogan, 64, called Reagan “my hero in politics” alongside his late father, Larry Hogan Sr., whom he wrote in for president in 2016 after deciding that he could not support Trump or then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The elder Hogan, who died in 2017, was well known for being the first Republican in Congress to support President Richard M. Nixon’s impeachment in 1974.

“I know it’s simply symbolic. It’s not going to change the outcome in my state. But I thought it was important to just cast a vote that showed the kind of person I’d like to see in office,” Hogan said of his ballot this year.

In 2019, Hogan briefly considered a long-shot primary challenge to Trump, encouraged by high-profile Trump critics such as conservative commentator William Kristol. But he decided against it.

Since then, Hogan has built a national profile as a blunt Trump critic, clashing repeatedly with the administration over the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. He was among four sitting Republican governors who did not endorse the push by Trump and Senate Republicans to confirm Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett before the election.

Hogan’s latest linking with Reagan is a reminder that as he explores a future in national politics, he is trying to balance his centrist reputation and moderate record with an appeal to traditional Republicans.

It won’t be easy. Hogan faces a crowd of other ambitious Republicans who are already busy making their own pitches to GOP voters, including Hogan’s close friend Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor. Unlike Hogan, most of these potential candidates are at least partly allied with Trump, who has dominated the party since he won the nomination four years ago.

Some Republicans nationally have shrugged at Hogan’s pitch, balking at the suggestion that he could win over rank-and-file GOP voters who roared at Trump’s hard-line message in 2016 and have stood by him since he won the White House.

Within Maryland, however, key Republicans see Hogan’s campaigning for moderates in other states as a crucial part of helping the party move forward.

“Our party will be in a different place after the election, whomever wins,” said Maryland House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R). “He brings that ability to connect with a larger audience, which is something you have to do when you’re a Republican from a Democratic state.”

Hogan believes his record enables him to be a player in the debate over the GOP’s future even if he has sparred with Trump. He’s narrowly focused his agenda on pocketbook issues, trimming regulations and trying to stave off tax increases proposed by the Democratic-controlled legislature.

“I’m a lifelong conservative Republican,” Hogan said on Thursday, rattling off a list of his long-ago campaign efforts for Reagan. “Reagan was the guy. I marched around as a college kid on the floor of the convention with a Reagan hat and a Reagan sign.”

Asked if he would be tempted by an offer to serve in Biden’s Cabinet, should Biden win, Hogan ruled out the idea and said he is committed to serving out his term, which ends in January 2023, and to remaining a Republican.

Hogan said Reagan’s ability to appeal to conservatives and blue-collar Democratic voters remains his guidebook, both for Maryland and for the GOP as it looks beyond Trump.

“People really want someone who’s pragmatic, who’s not afraid to compromise,” Hogan said, bemoaning the “extremes” he sees with Democrats and Republicans in Washington. He often touts his 2018 negotiations with Maryland Democrats to pass a tax on insurance companies, which subsidizes the rising cost of policies sold on the health exchange established through President Obama’s health-care law.

[Gov. Larry Hogan’s ‘regular guy’ approach smooths over partisan edges]

As governor, Hogan said his priority remains the pandemic and related issues in the state. But he acknowledged that he wants to keep building political relationships outside of Maryland, with the intention of establishing a network of like-minded Republicans who are able to support each other regardless of who wins the White House next month.

His political activities were fueled earlier in the year by the release of his memoir, “Still Standing,” and are centered on his national political group, An America United, aides said.

Hogan has traveled out of state to support House GOP candidates, such as Tom Kean Jr. in New Jersey and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Kean is the son of former New Jersey governor Tom Kean Sr., one of the GOP’s longtime moderate voices. Fitzpatrick represents a critical district in one of the nation’s battlegrounds. A former FBI agent, he is known for being bipartisan and supporting environmental protections.

A Hogan adviser said the Kean event on Oct. 5 in Far Hills, N.J., was outside with “everyone wearing masks, and it was distanced.”

Hogan said he will hold a virtual fundraiser for Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) later this month. While Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, has endorsed Trump, he — like Hogan — has urged both the president and Democrats to be more civil.

“For the most part, they’re similar types of guys,” Hogan said. “They’re fed up with politics as usual … I’m helping Susan Collins and Phil Scott and Tom Kean and Fitzpatrick because I believe in them. These are the people the party needs more of.”

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