As Senate Republicans took stock of the 2022 election cycle last year, they recognized that there would likely be competitive contests in battleground states such as Wisconsin, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. But GOP leaders also believed they could create some competitive races in reliably “blue” states by recruiting the right candidates to run.
With this in mind, the party started lobbying Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to launch a Republican Senate campaign against Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen. Yesterday, as the NBC affiliate in Baltimore reported, the governor said no.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that he will not run for the U.S. Senate, rebuffing an aggressive recruitment push from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans who saw the term-limited governor as the GOP’s best chance to win in the deep-blue state. Hogan announced his decision during an unrelated afternoon press conference in the State House, explaining that he could not finish his term as governor effectively and run for the Senate at the same time.
“I sincerely appreciate all the people who have been encouraging me to consider it. A number of people have said they thought I could make a difference in the Senate and be a voice of common sense and moderation,” Hogan said. “I was certainly humbled by that and it gave me and my family a reason to consider it, but as I have repeatedly said, I don’t aspire to be a United States senator and that fact has not changed.”
The GOP governor added that he notified party leaders about his decision before making the public comments.
For Van Hollen, this was no doubt welcome news. There are no top-tier Republicans preparing to take him on, and the filing deadline is just two weeks away.
To be sure, the Democratic incumbent likely would’ve been favored anyway. Some “blue” states elect Republican governors (see Vermont and Massachusetts, for example), just as some “red” states elect Democratic governors (see Kentucky and Louisiana, for example). Senate races tend to be very different stories.
But the fact that Republican officials gave Hogan the hard sell, practically begging him to run, only to be rebuffed, is part of a larger pattern.
NBC News published an interesting analysis back in November, noting that the party is “struggling to land top-tier recruits even as the deteriorating political climate for Democrats puts them in a strong position to win back the chamber.” It was accurate at the time, and it’s even truer now.
Republican leaders asked Gov. Phil Scott to run in Vermont, and he said no. Republican leaders asked Gov. Chris Sununu to run in New Hampshire, and he said no. Republican leaders asked Gov. Doug Ducey to run in Arizona, and at least for now, he said no. Republican leaders asked Hogan to run in Maryland, and now he’s also said no.
Remember, there’s ample evidence to suggest this will be a very good year for GOP candidates up and down the ballot, so it’s not as if these governors rejected party overtures because they faced electoral headwinds.
Rather, we're left with the fact that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his colleagues want to recruit the best possible candidates to run for Senate seats, but they've also created a chamber that the best possible candidates don’t want to be a part of. Sununu, in particular, very nearly launched a Senate campaign, right up until he talked to GOP senators about their governing plans — at which point the New Hampshire governor quickly moved in the opposite direction.
Following up on our earlier coverage, the result of these failed recruiting attempts will likely be a Republican Party stuck with several nominees in competitive races who are both far from the American mainstream and difficult to take seriously.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll lose. It probably wouldn’t be appropriate to name names, but the Senate already has some Republican members who are far from the American mainstream and difficult to take seriously, but they got elected anyway.
That said, as these developments unfold, I find myself thinking about the first term of Barack Obama’s presidency.
In the 2010 midterm elections, a Republican wave wiped out the Democratic majority in the U.S. House, but Democrats held onto their U.S. Senate majority — because GOP primary voters nominated unelectable candidates in Delaware, Colorado, and Nevada. The political winds were obviously blowing in Republicans’ direction, but it wasn’t enough to flip the chamber.
Two years later, the Democratic majority in the Senate actually got a little bigger, thanks to unelectable GOP candidates who lost in Missouri and Indiana.
It’s impossible to say with confidence whether history will repeat itself, but the point is that candidates matter, and right now, Republicans are struggling to recruit the best ones.