The GOP Bench, Part I

The following is a guest post by Adam Pagnucco:

Competition between Governor Larry Hogan and General Assembly Democrats has been hot and heavy since the Governor’s first State of the State speech and his first budget. The Governor has alternated between calling for bipartisanship and landing heavy partisan blows against his opponents. The Democrats have responded by holding up some of his legislative agenda and overriding all six of his vetoes. Battle lines are clearly being drawn for 2018.

Hogan is sometimes compared to his former employer, Governor Bob Ehrlich. When Ehrlich won the 2002 general election, Democrats chalked it up to the lackluster campaign run by their nominee and regarded him as a fluke. They soon rallied around Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and kicked out Ehrlich after one term. O’Malley decimated Ehrlich in their 2010 rematch by 14 points. Senate President Mike Miller promised to bury the Republicans and predicted it would take them forty years to recover. And then Hogan was elected.

Like Ehrlich, Hogan ran against an underwhelming Democratic Lieutenant Governor. Like Ehrlich, Hogan has positive job approval ratings (although Hogan’s are a bit higher for the moment.) And like Ehrlich, Hogan has problematic relations with the General Assembly. But there is one major difference between the two: the Maryland Republican Party is stronger now than it was in Ehrlich’s day.

Prior to Ehrlich, the last Republican Governor was former Baltimore County Executive Spiro Agnew, elected in 1966. Four straight multi-term Democratic Governors (and one Acting Governor) separated Ehrlich and Agnew. In that time period, the GOP had two U.S. Senators (John Glenn Beall and Charles Mathias) but those offices have both been held by Democrats since Barbara Mikulski’s election in 1986. The Democrats held most U.S. House seats and controlled most of the large local governments during the majority of this period. The GOP was rarely a factor in either politics or government.

Ehrlich was criticized by some for not doing enough to change this imbalance. During his time in office, the GOP’s voter registration percentage fell slightly and the party did not substantially increase its reach around the state. After his defeat in 2006, Ehrlich conceded Democratic dominance. He told WBAL, “It’s clear in Maryland that there is a direction people are more comfortable with… It’s the way it’s always been. And then we had this four-year sort of off-course thing, and people are clearly more comfortable with a single-party kind of deal here. They did not like the conflict.”

That is not Governor Hogan’s point of view. He is happy to battle Democrats through his dominant social media machine and uses them as whipping boys for all that ails the state. And Hogan has something that Ehrlich did not: a growing GOP bench. Whatever happens in the next election, that bench is something that demands attention from the Democrats for the foreseeable future.

What does the GOP’s bench look like? We’ll find out more in Part Two.