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Maybe I Was Wrong About Maryland Senate Race

By Sean Trende
Published On: Last updated 04/22/2024, 06:55 PM EDT

One of the things you learn very early on in this business – oftentimes the hard way – is that if you make too many confident predictions early on, eventually it will come back to bite you. It seems I still have not internalized this lesson fully. My first take on the Maryland Senate race was extreme skepticism that former Gov. Larry Hogan could win. My follow-up was that the seat was “really, really unlikely to flip.” I made similar predictions on the radio.

In fairness, it was a reasonable supposition. The road away from the Senate is paved with the campaigns of popular former governors who were partisan mismatches for their states, and who discovered that partisanship often trumps popularity when it comes to Senate races. Linda Lingle (R-HI), Bill Weld (R-MA), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Steve Bullock (D-MT), and Phil Bredesen (D-TN) all seemed like good bets to take a Senate seat based on their gubernatorial electoral history, only to lose races that didn’t end up terribly competitive. To this we might add, tellingly, Michael Steele, Maryland’s Republican lieutenant governor from 2002-2006.

That’s not to say that it’s impossible in the modern era. After all, Joe Manchin followed this path to the Senate. It’s just to say that in our modern polarized era, it’s rare.

But these types of things should not be immovable; as data piles up, we must be willing to update our beliefs. And so it seems to be with this year’s race for the open Senate seat in Maryland. In the last six weeks, we’ve received three solid polls on that race. While an Emerson poll from February had showed the race between Hogan and Rep. David Trone tied at 42%, subsequent polls have been better for the ex-governor. The first, from the Washington Post, showed Hogan up by 12 points, 49 to 37.  

The next poll, from Goucher College, was more like the Emerson poll; it showed Hogan up by just a point. But the most recent poll, from the Baltimore Sun, has Hogan up 13 points, 53-40.

That last poll, along with the Washington Post survey, are particularly important. While Phil Bredesen polled well, only a single poll showed him up by double digits, and that one showed him at 45%, well short of the crucial 50% mark. Steve Bullock only led in a handful of quality polls, and narrowly at that. Bredesen hit the 50% threshold in a single poll, but his lead was narrow and well within the error margin.

For Hogan to cross the 50% threshold while leading by a substantial margin is significant, because it suggests there really is a majority of voters out there willing to at least entertain seriously the possibility of a Sen. Hogan. That’s been missing from most of the previous matchups described above.

Again, this isn’t to understate the degree of difficulty accompanying the task before Hogan. He will still have to convince around one-quarter of Joe Biden’s voters to pull the lever for a Democratic president and a would-be Republican senator. He’ll have to thread a host of difficult and uncomfortable policy positions that he could dodge as governor, because more sophisticated voters could intuit that with a Democratic legislature his powers in Annapolis were circumscribed. And he might yet face incoming criticism from Donald Trump, from whom Hogan will have to continue to distance himself if he is going to have a chance.

In other words, Hogan still has an uphill climb, but this is looking more like a winnable race than it did a month ago.

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