Poll shows Larry Hogan could be tough competition in Maryland Senate race

A new poll of the US Senate race from the Baltimore Banner and Maryland’s Goucher College puts into clear view what seemed to be the dynamic from the get-go: the surprise candidacy of Larry Hogan is posing a familiar challenge for Democrats.

The survey of voters in the state finds that Mr Hogan, a Republican former governor who won over enough Democrats in his deep-blue state to win a second term, slightly leads both of his potential Democratic challengers in hypothetical head-to-head matchups. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and Congressman David Trone are running in the Democratic primary to replace retiring Senator Ben Cardin, also a Democrat.

And the reason for Mr Hogan’s lead in the polls is obvious: He enjoys far greater name recognition than either of his two possible opponents. His favourable rating was roughly 20 per centage points higher than either Mr Trone’s or Ms Alsobrooks’s; meanwhile, the percentage of voters who did not have clear opinions of the two Democrats was much greater in comparison to the segment of voters without an opinion on Mr Hogan.

His announcement of a candidacy for Senate in February came after months of the governor insisting that he would not run for the seat while stoking speculation about a White House bid. The latter scenario never materialised, and the former appears to have come about after conversations with Senate Republican leadership and the presumed conclusion among all parties involved that Mr Hogan is the only Republican with any reasonable chance of winning the seat.

The former governor has already hit the campaign trail and was spotted posing for selfies with Orioles fans on opening day last week; the MLB American League East champions played before a sellout crowd on Thursday.

Mr Hogan’s ability to maintain that dominance after the Democratic primary concludes remains in question. There are plenty of reasons why either of his two opponents — both of whom trailed him by single digits, Mr Trone within the poll’s margin of error — could overtake him.

Chief among those reasons: the unified backing of the state’s Democratic Party machine, which offered lukewarm opposition to Mr Hogan’s re-election bid but has thrown its support wholeheartedly behind Ms Alsobrooks’s candidacy. With the state’s first-term Democratic governor, Wes Moore, enthusiastically backing her bid the Maryland Democratic machine looks to be readying for a fight it never gave Mr Hogan during his gubernatorial stint.

And Mr Trone would not be without his own strengths as well. A millionaire who co-founded the Total Wine & More franchise, the congressman self-funded his bid for office in 2018 after failing two years earlier to win the seat now held by Jamie Raskin: those two races left plenty of sore feelings between Mr Trone’s camp and those of his various rivals, including Mr Raskin. He has continued to pour his own money into his bid for the Senate and has loaned his campaign millions as he pursues Mr Cardin’s seat.

One other important area for Democrats in the poll: Mr Hogan’s unfavourable rating is low among independents, who also give the governor his highest favourable rating. If Democrats are going to keep this seat in their party’s hands in November, they will need to drive turnout among their party’s base, including progressives. And those Maryland Democrats who are already paying attention to the race told the poll’s administrators that preserving Democratic control of the Senate was highly important to them.

Many eyes are on Maryland’s Senate race as a win by Republicans would sharply tilt the odds against Democrats maintaining control of the chamber next year. The state is also in the news in the aftermath of a stunning disaster in the state’s largest city, Baltimore, which saw its landmark Francis Scott Key Bridge destroyed last week when a cargo ship lost power and rammed a support structure. Mr Moore, the governor, has become the public face of the cleanup effort; he has long thought to be building his own national profile with future political ambitions in mind.

The Banner/Goucher poll surveyed voters from 19-24 March and included 800 registered voters, including 408 registered Democrats to compensate for the state’s strong blue bent. The margin of error was 3.5 percentage points.