Meanwhile, back in Maryland…

Even though the Master of Mar-a-Lago continues to provide endless material for commentary, a decent regard for mental health suggests the importance of looking away from time to time. Thinking about Paul Ryan and the machinations of House Republicans with respect to health care policy really isn’t much of a respite either. The current draft of RyanCare working its way through the lower chamber seems more like their 50 plus earlier efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act than a serious effort at policy making.

Looking for a different perspective, I recently spent a day in Annapolis, home of Maryland government. Despite a long absence, it only took a few conversations to realize that the French were absolutely correct that “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”

I couldn’t find anyone who thought that it was going to be a particularly productive legislative session. Certainly the Governor’s agenda doesn’t look like much is going to come of it. And, on the other hand, Democrats haven’t really figured out how to effectively oppose Larry Hogan other than to frustrate his ambitions.

I admit that I’m gazing down from about 50,000 feet and that of course lots of bills will end up passing. Still, revenue projections are down again, little has changed with respect to the State’s ongoing structural budget deficit and no one really has a plan for dealing with what may be massive disruptions from the federal budget and the efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Hogan’s leadership is a bit puzzling. In fact, it’s not really clear what his goals are other than to get reelected. His poll numbers continue to be high, but his popularity may well be more personal than political. The two main strands of his outreach strategy seem to be to beat up on Baltimore City and to make derogatory statements about Democrats in the General Assembly. Will that be enough to ensure his reelection to 2018?

Maybe, but the political environment next year is likely to be less favorable to him than it was in 2014 when he faced a weak opponent and considerable voter fatigue after eight years of Martin O’Malley as governor.  By next year, the Trump presidency may be so unpopular than Hogan will have serious problems in figuring out how to position himself.  Will he have a record that he can take to voters?

He has certainly made a few decisions that are popular with his base, such as reducing tolls and cancelling the Red Line in Baltimore.  Hogan has also announced that “Maryland is Open for Business.” Whether that declaration translates into any tangible benefits for Marylanders is murky at best.

Hogan has taken a very visible position against gerrymandering.  Will voters care?  He has one of the smartest persons in Maryland, Bobby Neall, working on a plan to reorganize state government.  I could argue that both of these initiatives might, depending on the details, make sense, but whether either can be a viable campaign issue is far from clear.

Ultimately, Hogan’s reelection prospects will depend largely on who runs against him in the General Election and whether Democrats are able to mobilize their significant registration advantage to actually turn out on Election Day.  One factor that might impact the second issue is whether the anti-Trump political activism that has been so evident since his Inauguration will spill over into the Maryland race.

A number of Democratic names are out there, but no one seems to have grabbed the frontrunner position.  Two county executives, Rushern Baker of Prince’s George’s and Kevin Kamenetz of Baltimore County, both have impressive records as local executives, but little name recognition outside their own areas.  Congressman John Delaney has a lot of money, but may be even less well-known than Baker and Kamenetz.

Last week, State Senator Rich Madaleno, who is Hogan’s leading critic in the General Assembly, announced that he is considering getting into the race.  Earlier, House Appropriations Chair Maggie McIntosh made it known that she was thinking about running for statewide office, although most observers assumed that she meant challenging Comptroller Peter Franchot in a Democratic Primary.  Madaleno and McIntosh are both smart, experienced and well-respected legislators.  Whether either can translate those qualities into voter appeal will be a real challenge.

Making the jump from being a locally elected official to running statewide is much harder than most people realize.  A lot of popular local officials have stumbled badly in the past trying to move up.

A couple of other names have surfaced and others may still express an interest, but whether any of them is a serious candidate or is just seeking attention won’t be obvious for several months.

On the other hand, Larry Hogan pretty much came out of nowhere to win first the Republican nomination and then the Gubernatorial race in 2014.  He better than anyone else should know that one of these candidates could do the same thing him next year that he did to Anthony Brown in the last election.