Republicans have only won the popular vote in one presidential election since the end of the Cold War. The party has also had difficulties reaching out to non-white voters — a growing portion of the electorate. If anything, those difficulties have become even more profound as a result of the nomination of Donald Trump this year.inflatable slides
Despite the party’s problems winning the White House, the GOP on the state level is in good shape. There are 31 Republican governors in the country right now. Those governors serve a diverse group of states, from the staunchly red Alabama to the bluest Massachusetts.
One of those very blue states happens to by Maryland, a state that has not voted for a Republican for president since George H.W. Bush’s decisive win over Michael Dukakis in 1988.
Larry Hogan was elected governor in an upset victory in 2014. Hogan’s message of lowering taxes and changing Maryland’s direction helped him defeat then Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, despite being outspent 2 to 1. One of the keys to Hogan’s victory was winning the support of 24 percent of self-identified Democrats, including 12 percent of African-American Democrats.
Despite dealing with a heavily Democratic legislature, Hogan remains extremely popular. An opinion poll conducted in September showed Hogan with a 71 percent approval rating. Hogan is even more popular in heavily black and Democratic Baltimore City than he is statewide, enjoying a 72 percent approval rating in Charm City.
Hogan, pictured on election night 2014, was able to win in deep blue Maryland by focusing on a positive, forward-looking message and reaching out to new voting blocs. | Photo: AP
Hogan’s high approval ratings are due in part to his struggle with cancer. He has been battling cancer for a year, with treatments ending in September. Hogan’s cancer thankfully has been in remission since the summer.
Hogan has also pursued a narrow agenda in the state. He has trimmed taxes and spending, but nothing too drastic. More importantly, he has nudged the Democratic legislature in a more fiscally conservative direction. Hogan’s moderate approach to spending and taxes was good enough to earn a C from the libertarian Cato Institute’s “Fiscal Policy Report Card On America’s Governors.”
But much of the reason why Hogan is popular in Maryland is that he reaches out to voters of all stripes. For example, he reached out to help the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreational Center in West Baltimore. Baltimore City Fire Dispatcher Arthur “Squeaky” Kirk runs the center.
Kirk asked Hogan for help with supplies and money for the center. Hogan stepped up big time and drew on support from private businesses. According to the Baltimore Sun, Hogan helped arrange for “a new community garden, 20 computers, 15 iPads, a ping-pong table, furniture and a renovated basketball court and playground, largely from private contributions. Donors also contributed $10,000 for a festival in honor of Kirk’s mother, the late Del. Ruth M. Kirk.”
When the center reopened in June 2015, Hogan was there. He used the occasion to announce a $1 million increase in job training and summer work programs for Baltimore youth and a $4.15 million aid package to help the city rebuild from the riots of April 2015.
HOGAN’S FOCUS ON TAXES AND SPENDING HAVE MOVED THE PREDOMINANTLY DEMOCRATIC LEGISLATURE IN A FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE DIRECTION
Hogan’s announcement drew criticism from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who attacked Hogan on budget cuts for education and a rail line. Part of Hogan’s appeal has been his ability to make Democrats like Rawlings-Blake look petty when they attack him. That’s a stark contrast from how many other Republicans handle criticism.
The MLK Jr. Recreation Center gives students a chance to come off the streets, do their homework and play. Not only does it keep kids out of trouble, it does weekly food drives to help local families in the Franklin Square neighborhood.
The center has also become an outpost for Republicans in a neighborhood that only gave Hogan 12 votes in 2014. Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who is black, hosted a Christmas party at the community center and distributed presents to children that were donated from companies including Under Armour. Republican candidates for office volunteer there to help with food drives. Republican U.S. Senate nominee Kathy Szeliga even helped keep the center open after Baltimore city officials tried to close it. A super PAC backing Szeliga cut a radio ad highlighting her support of the center.
The center’s growing reputation as a Republican outpost doesn’t bother Kirk all that much. His mother, he said, “was an old-school pol, and even though she was a Democrat, she knew how to find a way, how to get what she wanted across the table,” Kirk told the Baltimore Sun. “I’m a Democrat, but I like people for who they are. I don’t believe in black and white, Democrat and Republican.”
Maryland Republican Party 3rd Vice Chair Eugene Craig III, who is from Baltimore, believes that Hogan’s outreach to the black community will bear fruit in the long run and can be a model for Republicans nationwide.
“Earlier this year, the Baltimore Sun profiled the emerging Hogan voter as younger and black, which is in stark contrast to the typical Republican voter.” Craig told Opportunity Lives.
Craig says Hogan did three very important things. He “stepped into black communities not to ask for votes, but to hear our concerns. He showed up at block parties, church events and most importantly HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and University] campuses.”
“EARLIER THIS YEAR, THE BALTIMORE SUN PROFILED THE EMERGING HOGAN VOTER AS YOUNGER AND BLACK, WHICH IS IN STARK CONTRAST TO THE TYPICAL REPUBLICAN VOTER” – EUGENE CRAIG III
Craig said Hogan built a team of community leaders that could serve as ambassadors to the community and vice versa. “He didn’t and still doesn’t just show face to check the box on black outreach, he has developed a solid team that he has empowered to get the job,” Craig said.
More importantly, Craig explained, Hogan invests the resources into engaging the black community.
“He made sure the team had the resources they needed.” said Craig. “Right now you can not pay Trump to step into a black community or HBCU. A candidate/elected official can surround themselves with all the black faces they want, but if those faces don’t have the resources to get the job done, they are non-factors.” Craig also says that Hogan puts in as much effort in Baltimore City as he does in the surrounding areas, which are already more Republican.
Finally, Craig is convinced this should be copied by Republicans and conservatives all over the country.
“This is a model that should be used by republicans in every jurisdiction and every level of government,” he said. “We don’t need to create the wheel to win, we only need to have the will to do what is right to [win].”
Speaking of Trump, Hogan was one of the first Republican officials to announce that he would not vote for the party’s nominee. Despite threats from Trump supporters about challenging him in the 2018 primary, Hogan reiterated his opposition to Trump this month. So far, most Maryland voters seem to not care either way.
As Republicans seek to broaden their appeal to African Americans and other minorities, they can take lessons from Larry Hogan in Maryland. Those are lessons are show up, listen to the community and their concerns, stay engaged, and be there even after Election Day.
Kevin Boyd is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @kevinboyd1984.