After a spring and early summer dominated by a near-weekly slate of high-profile Republican primaries, July is quiet, all except for Maryland, where the sleepy GOP nominating contest for governor is beginning to heat up.
It’s unfolding in what is, by now, a familiar fashion.
Outgoing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and former President Donald Trump, who may yet face each other in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, are engaged in something of a proxy battle, backing competing candidates in the July 19 contest.
Hogan has endorsed Kelly Schulz, a former member of his Cabinet viewed as the most electable general election contender in deep-blue Maryland (fact check: true); Trump is backing state legislator Dan Cox, a loyalist who appeals to grassroots conservatives but is likely to fall flat on his face in November, no matter the size of any Republican wave.
Trump recently pushed back on suggestions that he’s supporting another loser in a closely watched Republican primary. “Hearing RINO Larry Hogan has tried to come to the rescue of his fellow ‘Never Trumper,’ Kelly Schulz. They say Democrats want to face Dan Cox in the general election, when the opposite is true,” the 45th president claimed in a statement, referring to Hogan, a prominent Trump critic, as a “Republican in Name Only.”
Where have we seen this movie before? Nebraska, where the candidate endorsed by outgoing Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) defeated Trump’s pick in a GOP primary, and in gubernatorial primaries in Georgia and Idaho, where the former president’s endorsed candidates failed to unseat incumbent Govs. Brian Kemp and Brad Little, respectively, who are running for reelection.
But that’s not all.
In a familiar refrain, the Democratic Governors Association has intervened in Maryland’s Republican gubernatorial primary and is backing Cox with a television advertising campaign backed by nearly $1 million. The DGA has clearly, and understandably, concluded that Cox is less likely than Schulz to threaten the eventual Democratic nominee in the fall. Recall, Hogan scored an upset in 2014, the last midterm election in which a GOP wave vaulted underdog Republicans to victory.
Democrats, sometimes with the assistance of the DGA, sometimes not, have used this same strategy to push Trump-aligned candidates across the finish line in Republican gubernatorial primaries in Illinois and Pennsylvania. Crucially, Democrats spent big money promoting these “MAGA” acolytes, whose own campaigns would not have had access to otherwise, making the tactic more than just a headline-grabbing dirty trick, but a potential gamechanger, although they tried and failed to do the same in GOP gubernatorial primaries in Colorado and Nevada.
As seen in the DGA ad for Cox, there’s nothing about the messaging that is nefarious or runs counter to what any liberal group might have to say about a Republican candidate for any office. Rather, it’s the timing that is the tell. The DGA is on television in Maryland as Republicans are making up their minds between Cox and Schulz, and the wording and visuals of the group’s spot sounds exactly like the case Cox would make for himself if he had the resources to fund a similar advertising campaign.
“Dan Cox; Maryland’s handpicked candidate for Maryland governor. Cox worked with Trump, trying to prove the last election is a fraud. One hundred percent pro-life, he’s fighting to end abortion in Maryland. And, Cox will protect the Second Amendment at all costs, refusing to support any federal restrictions on guns — even pushing to put armed guards in every school,” the ad’s voiceover says. “Dan Cox: too close to Trump; too conservative for Maryland.”
Meanwhile, Democrats continue to warn that Republicans like Cox would weaken American democracy at Trump’s behest should they be successful at the ballot box on Nov. 8. Schulz campaign spokesman Mike Demkiw emphasized that point in a statement critical of the DGA’s intervention in the Maryland GOP gubernatorial primary.
“This is really simple: The DGA is spending over $1 million propping up fringe candidate Dan Cox because they are scared of Kelly Schulz. They know that Kelly is the only candidate who can win in November and to avoid that outcome they are supporting someone they normally call a ‘threat to democracy,’” he said. The DGA has previously dismissed this criticism as invalid, saying GOP officials are blaming Democrats for their own, internal failings.
Now, to the field …
Missouri Senate race. There’s less than one month to go until Missouri Republicans pick a standard bearer to succeed retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R) and disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens retains a fighting chance to win the nomination.
According to the RealClearPolitics average, Missouri’s GOP Senate primary is a dogfight. Greitens (24.3%), state Attorney General Eric Schmitt (22.3%), and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (18.5%) all have a shot at finishing on top. But for Republican insiders in Missouri — and Washington — who worry Greitens would put the seat in jeopardy in November, the fact that the former governor appears to be hanging around at the top in most polls has to be concerning. It explains why some of those Republicans launched Show Me Values, a political action committee spending money against Greitens.
Trump has yet to endorse in this contest. As happened in Senate GOP primaries in Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, his seal of approval could tip the scales.
The abortion wars. In early May, after a draft of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade leaked, I reported for the Washington Examiner that such a ruling would not put an end to nearly a half century of political division over the issue of abortion rights, but rather that fight would enter a new phase.
To wit, the high court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center, which terminated federal protections for abortion rights, sparked a fundraising windfall for the Democratic Party. According to the Associated Press, ActBlue, a liberal online fundraising platform, processed $80 million in donations for Democratic candidates and causes in the week following the June 24 decision, including $20 million in the first 24 hours.
However, much of that cash was funneled to candidates for federal office, versus candidates for state office, and only surpassed by $9 million the $71 million in contributions ActBlue processed for Democrats in the first 24 hours after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just prior to the 2020 election.
2024 Watch. Add another Republican to the list of White House hopefuls. Outgoing Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is mulling a 2024 presidential bid, per an interview with CBS News. What’s motivating Hutchinson? Trump. The Arkansas Republican said the former president is unfit to lead the nation, leading him to consider running in a bid to block Trump from a second term should he choose to mount a third White House campaign.
“We have to go in a different direction for our country, for my party,” Hutchinson said. “I want to be a voice for commonsense conservatism, and we’ll see how that resonates.” That’s the key question: Will Hutchinson’s anti-Trump message attract a following among the kind of Republican that usually pulls the lever in presidential primaries?
So far, the polling suggests the answer is no. But he is not the only Republican bound to test the theory. Hogan, among other Republican Trump critics, is expected to run.