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Larry Hogan Is Running for Senate as a Moderate. His Vetoes Tell a Different Story.

7 minute read

A governor uses his executive power to block efforts to expand abortion access, strengthen background checks on gun purchases, and require companies to offer paid family leave. That may sound like someone vying to be Donald Trump’s running mate, but it’s actually Larry Hogan, the former Maryland governor seen by many as the avatar of anti-Trump Republican moderation. 

Hogan’s governorship is about to come under a microscope after he announced he was running for Senate, a surprise decision that came after months of speculation that he might make a third-party presidential bid. While Republicans had previously written off their chances of winning an open Senate seat in liberal Maryland, Hogan’s entry has changed the equation, given his reputation as the rare Republican even some Democrats like.

But during his eight years as governor, Hogan amassed a record of vetoing legislation that shows him to be more conservative than his national profile suggests. In April 2022, shortly before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Hogan vetoed a bill to increase the number of abortion providers throughout the state and allocate $3.5 million for a training program to perform the procedure safely. That same month, he rejected a measure that would require companies to offer 12 weeks of partially paid medical leave for their employees. In 2020, he blocked legislation to mandate background checks on private rifle and shotgun sales. And throughout his tenure, he vetoed bills to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, allow voters to fix mistakes on their mail-in ballots, and ban employers from asking job applicants about their criminal history. 

“Everything he did that a Democrat wouldn't have done is going to be pointed out and amplified,” says Michael Hanmer, a University of Maryland politics professor. “Maryland voters are pretty savvy. They’re not too far from Washington, D.C.” In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one, Hanmer adds, a right-wing veto history could be costly when the balance of power in Washington is at stake. “Those are vulnerabilities for him.”

In the Trump years, Hogan emerged as a national leader on handling the Covid pandemic, implementing stay-at-home and mask-wearing orders early on. He was also a vocal critic of the former President, with near daily appearances on cable news that made him a leading light of the Never Trump movement, and a popular GOP governor in a blue state. By positioning himself as a Trump antagonist, Hogan became a mainstream media darling whose policy decisions often avoided closer scrutiny.

But now that Hogan has turned Maryland into a competitive Senate race, Democrats are intent on puncturing the perception of him as a moderate. The party already faces an uphill battle in maintaining its Senate control: Democrats are defending 23 seats while Republicans are defending only 10. The GOP needs to net only one or two seats to take over the chamber. “Maryland voters understand the consequences of elections,” says Susan Turnbull, former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. “We will not be tricked into believing that Mitch McConnell’s hand-picked candidate is anything but an anti-abortion rubber stamp on the GOP agenda.”

The Hogan campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

For Republicans, recruiting Hogan was a major pickup. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Steve Daines of Montana, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, spent months trying to convince Hogan to run for the seat being vacated by Democrat Ben Cardin. “To be competitive in a blue state like that is quite a boost for us,” McConnell told reporters last week.

Even if Hogan falls short, GOP operatives say, his candidacy will help the party by forcing Democrats to spend money in Maryland that they could have invested in other battleground states like Arizona, Montana, and Ohio. Until Hogan’s last-minute entry, Washington politicos were expecting a boring contest in Maryland, with the Democratic primary winner—either Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks or Rep. David Trone—coasting to victory. 

For Hogan, the decision comes with risks. Entering a high-stakes Senate race will subject him to opposition research and Democrats resurrecting the stains on his past. In April 2021, the Maryland state legislature unanimously passed a tougher new ethics law to enhance disclosure requirements for public officials. The legislation followed a Washington Monthly exposé that found Hogan, after canceling a planned $2.9 billion rail line through Baltimore, routed the freed-up funds to road and highway infrastructure projects near properties owned by his real estate investment firm, a development that can boost the value of those properties. In his first three years in office, Hogan made $2.4 million, far exceeding his annual official government salary of $180,000. 

As governor, Hogan also suffered some embarrassing episodes of bureaucratic mismanagement. In April 2020, Hogan announced that his administration had purchased 500,000 Covid test kits for $11.9 million from South Korea at a time when tests were in short supply. There was only one problem: The test kits didn’t work. Two months later, the state returned them to South Korea and had to spend $2.5 million on a second batch. The Washington Post revealed that the test kits themselves had been available at the time for far cheaper from a domestic manufacturer.

Democrats plan to emphasize these blemishes on Hogan’s governorship, sources familiar with the matter tell TIME, with Hogan’s veto record representing the clearest test of how he would vote on Capitol Hill. The vetoes have largely gone unnoticed, they say, because Hogan was skillful at diverting attention toward his anti-Trump broadsides over his official government policy making. But it’s also because Democrats often used their supermajority in the Maryland legislature to override Hogan’s vetoes. 

That’s what happened with Hogan’s abortion veto, which is the one likely to draw the most attention in the coming months, as many Republicans still push to outlaw the procedure nationwide. On Wednesday, Hogan told CNN he doesn't support a federal abortion ban. Should Hogan win the GOP primary, he will be on the same ballot in November as an amendment to enshrine abortion rights into Maryland’s constitution.

Throughout his political career, Hogan had said he was personally pro-life but considered Roe a “matter of settled law.” When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, Hogan was in his last year in office. Two months earlier, he vetoed a measure to expand abortion access by allowing nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and physician assistants to perform the procedure. Supporters argued it was needed because some of the state’s rural counties didn’t have a single provider. Hogan said the legislation would endanger women by “allowing non-physicians to perform abortions.” After the Democrats in the General Assembly overrode his veto, Hogan withheld $3.5 million in state funds allocated in the bill to increase the number of providers in the state, delaying the program’s start until his successor, Democrat Wes Moore, took over in January 2023.

Democrats say the episode could hamper Hogan’s Senate bid in a Democratic state where support for abortion access is high. It could also serve as a barometer for whether Hogan can preserve his bipartisan appeal. “He’s not what he says he is,” says John Willis, a former Maryland Democratic Secretary of State. “He’s got on a mask—and the mask is about to be lifted.”

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