Hogan’s Empire

I remain grateful to Adam Pagnucco for writing so many guest posts while I am out of town. Hello from Uruguay.

Governor Larry Hogan and the General Assembly Democrats are debating a lot of issues these days, including transportation projects, spending mandates, voting rights for people on parole and gerrymandering. Regardless of who’s right or who’s wrong, one thing can be said for sure: many people are only hearing one side of the argument. And that side belongs to the Governor.

Policy debates in Annapolis, and their political implications, are increasingly occurring in the context of a shrunken mainstream media. The Sun and the Post have dramatically cut back on their statehouse coverage. The Gazette is no more. The Daily Record is hidden behind an expensive paywall. Many local outlets don’t have staff in Annapolis. The TV and radio stations offer sporadic statehouse coverage. Maryland Reporter and the blogs have small audiences. Most people who pay close attention to these remaining news sources are firmly in one partisan camp or the other. Those people who pay only casual attention – a much larger group – are getting less content than ever.

The Governor and his supporters have adroitly prepared for this world by constructing a huge social media empire. They don’t have to worry about declining news coverage – they can and do cover themselves. Like his predecessors, the Governor has an official communications operation. But he also has Change Maryland, a policy/politics/PR entity started by the Governor in 2011 that has since morphed into his campaign organization. And he benefits from Red Maryland, a conservative blog started a decade ago that serves as a discussion platform for the ideas and politics of the right. The Democrats have no counterpart for either group.

Change Maryland and the Governor together rule the state’s social media, or at least that portion of it which is dedicated to state and local politics. Following are their Facebook likes and Twitter followers on March 9, as well as those of the Democrats and potential gubernatorial rivals.

Facebook Likes, March 9, 2016
Change Maryland: 262,559
Larry Hogan: 113,988
Heather Mizeur: 23,168
Anthony Brown: 17,659
Ken Ulman: 8,959
Doug Gansler: 8,949
Maryland Republican Party: 8,442
Maryland Democratic Party: 8,059
Peter Franchot: 7,692
John Sarbanes: 5,665
Maryland Senate Democrats: 5,169
John Delaney: 4,424
Brian Frosh: 3,994
Maryland Senate Republican Slate: 3,821
Mike Miller: 2,858
Kevin Kamenetz: 2,297
Rushern Baker: 1,915
Maryland House Republican Caucus: 1,748
Young Democrats of Maryland: 1,677
Mike Busch: 1,633
Maryland Young Republicans: 1,135
Maryland House Dems: 248

Twitter Followers, March 9, 2016
Larry Hogan: 18,830
Ken Ulman: 8,902
Rushern Baker: 8,506
Maryland Democratic Party: 8,341
Maryland Republican Party: 7,936
Heather Mizeur: 7,228
Peter Franchot: 6,846
Change Maryland: 6,796
Doug Gansler: 6,529
Anthony Brown: 3,640
Brian Frosh: 3,093
Young Democrats of Maryland: 2,235
John Sarbanes: 2,037
Kevin Kamenetz: 1,492
Maryland Young Republicans: 1,490
John Delaney: 1,112
Maryland Senate GOP: 1,107

The Governor’s advantage on Twitter is substantial, but not insurmountable. His advantage on Facebook over the Democrats is astounding. His Facebook page and Change Maryland’s page combined have a better than 40-1 edge on the state Democrats and a more than 80-1 advantage over potential rivals like Congressman John Delaney, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. And as for how he compares to General Assembly Democrats…? There is no comparison. Not. At. All.

In an era of disappearing statehouse coverage by the mainstream media, the Governor’s social media empire dominates policy debates, at least in the eyes of the public, and gives him a tremendous political edge. His positions on the budget, transportation, criminal justice, taxes and more are seen by MANY, MANY more people than those of the Democrats. Low cost Facebook ads can quickly spread them to 100,000 people or more. (With his campaign fundraising, he can easily afford them.) And while Democratic state legislators may have been outraged by his “spring break” remarks, how many people saw their hashtag rebuttals? Almost certainly far fewer than those who saw the Governor’s original statements.

Much attention has been paid to the Governor’s favorable poll ratings, which he trumpets non-stop through his communication outlets. That may or may not be warranted because polls go up and down, sometimes because of factors outside of a politician’s control. But to the extent that the Governor’s poll results are meaningful, consider this.

Could they be due in part to the fact that much of the public is getting only one side of the story, and that side is not the one told by the Democrats?