Real estate executive Larry Hogan made history Tuesday night, riding a wave of rural and middle-class support to victory as Maryland’s second Republican governor in nearly half a century. In his come-from-behind defeat of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the Democrat who would have become the state’s first African-American governor, Hogan capped a campaign that focused on the unpopularity of tax hikes enacted by Gov. Martin O’Malley, Brown’s boss.
“They said it couldn’t be done in Maryland, but together we did it,” said a beaming Hogan after taking the stage at his victory party in a ballroom of the Westin Annapolis Hotel. “Tonight, voters showed they were completely fed up with politics as usual.”
For Brown, it obviously was a bitter disappointment. “We fell short of our campaign goal,” he told supporters. “But it cannot, and does not, diminish the work that each and every one of you have done.
“This was a tough campaign,” he continued. “But it was tough because there’s a lot at stake and a lot we were fighting for. Larry and his team have a tough road ahead of them, and I wish them the very best.”
By all accounts, it was a Republican night across the country. In an election marked by voter dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and economic worries topping voters’ concerns, the GOP took control of the U.S. Senate and expanded its hold on the House of Representatives.
In Maryland, a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1, Hogan’s margin of victory would be noteworthy were it just 1 or 2 percentage points. But the official tally — 52 percent to 46 percent with 90 percent of precincts reporting — came as a surprise to watchers of a campaign that Brown announced at the beginning of the summer he practically had in the bag.
Hogan voters expressed a sense that O’Malley had taken the state backward and that Brown would have continued in his predecessor’s path.
“The state has gotten away from the freedom to work and to accomplish for yourself,” said Sheila LoCastro, who attended Hogan’s victory party after making the decision to volunteer with the campaign three weeks ago.
“I couldn’t resist it anymore,” she said of signing up to help make Hogan a household name. A lifelong Republican, she said Hogan is the candidate Maryland’s Republicans — long overshadowed by the Democrats, who control Baltimore City and most county governments as well as both houses of the state legislature — have been waiting for.
Chaya Levin, who voted for Hogan earlier in the day at Northwestern High School in the Park Heights section of Baltimore, agreed.
“I think he’s going to do something different,” she said of Hogan, whose lieutenant governor will be former George W. Bush administration official Boyd Rutherford.
Rich Halpern, who voted at Summit Park Elementary in Baltimore, said Brown’s fumbled rollout of the Maryland health care exchange and O’Malley’s tax increases played into his Hogan vote.
“I’m tired of paying all the taxes, and the one thing they gave Brown to do he [messed] up,” said Halpern. “He’s like a junior O’Malley, and I don’t like O’Malley.”
At the Brown campaign’s election night party in College Park, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and Sen. Ben Cardin, both popular Baltimore Democrats, seemed to offer explanations for Brown’s poor performance, even before election returns swung in Hogan’s favor.
“I know that people are concerned about taxes,” said Cummings. “When we cut taxes on the federal level, what does that mean to highways and bridges, tuition freeze? Somebody’s going to have to pay.
“I can understand why O’Malley and Brown had to do what they did with regard to taxes, and I thought it was a rather bold move,” he continued. “But the choice is you lead and you get things done or you cut services and cut infrastructure and cut colleges and you end up with a state in bad shape. It’s tough, but that’s what leadership is all about. You’ve got to stand up for what you believe in and hope the people will follow.”
Cardin, who spoke before a victor emerged, said the next governor will have his hands full.
“We still need to make sure that every child has opportunity through good schools,” he said. “So I think the next governor is going to have a full plate, a full agenda, building on the progress Maryland has made so that Maryland can continue to be a place of opportunity for all its citizens.”
Democrats came out in larger numbers during early voting. In Baltimore City, 7.9 percent of eligible Democrats voted early, casting 23,171 votes, and 4.5 percent of Republicans voted early, casting 1,354 votes. In Baltimore County, 11.4 percent of eligible Democrats voted early, casting 33,819 votes, and 10.2 percent of Republicans voted early, casting 13,328 votes. In Montgomery County, 6.9 percent of eligible Democrats voted early, casting 24,514 votes, and 5.1 percent of Republicans voted early, casting 6,203 votes.
At the polls, voters cited a diversity of issues when asked why they supported one candidate over the other.
Education weighed heavily in many voters’ minds, and Brown’s plan for universal prekindergarten garnered much support.
Bertha Johnson, a former teacher, supported Brown because of that plan.
“I hope they have pre-K all over [Baltmore] because it is needed,” she said.
Voters in Montgomery County were concerned with similar issues.
“The economy is a big question, and education — money for education,” said Kemp Mill resident Avi Weiss before casting his vote at Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School.
John Bullock, an assistant professor of political science at Towson University, noted that anemic voter turnout likely hurt Brown.
“It’s not the most exciting campaign,” said Bullock. “There’s a lot of lukewarm approval of Brown among some Democrats.”
Stanley Goldberg, who voted at Summit Park, was one of those “lukewarm” supporters.
“There’s nobody else to vote for. It’s Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum,” he said. “I don’t expect him to accomplish much of anything.”
While Hogan hadn’t spoken much about gun control during the campaign, the Brown campaign made a big deal of his receiving an “A” grading and endorsement from the National Rifle Association. O’Malley and Brown supported and pushed for one of the nation’s toughest gun-control laws, which passed last year.
Oleg Kononov said that’s exactly why he supported Hogan.
“My constitutional rights would be restricted with the Democrats,” he said. “[With] more restrictions, less freedom.”
Others who voted for Hogan said negative campaigning from Brown turned them off.
“To rebel against someone saying negative things, I voted for the guy the negative ads were targeting,” said Allan Wood, who voted at Pikesville Middle School. “I just don’t care for that type of campaigning. It’s a poor way to present yourself.”
For Norman Wolf, O’Malley’s record, as well as the outgoing governor’s relationship with President Obama, was enough for Hogan to win his vote. In addition to his frustration over taxes, Wolf isn’t happy with Obama’s Middle East policies.
“He’s very anti-Israel,” he said.
Marc Shapiro is senior reporter and Heather Norris is staff reporter for our sister publication, Baltimore Jewish Times.
Suzanne Pollak and Joshua Runyan contributed to this report.