Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Jr., a Republican, has tried to distance himself from Trump. Then he releases questionable videos that his opponent says make fun of people with speech impediments.
One race that hasn’t received much attention nationally — but has locally — is the Maryland governor’s campaign. Republican incumbent Larry Hogan Jr. holds a double-digit lead over Democrat Ben Jealous in most polls, despite Maryland being a state where Democratic registered voters outnumber Republicans by a two-to-one margin.
A move that could backfire for the Hogan campaign is releasing videos that seem to make fun of Jealous’ speech impediment. This one in July shows Jealous pausing for a few seconds before answering a question, as if no one ever makes such pauses.
Another video released more recently shows Jealous misspeaking, such as saying “Virginia” rather than “Maryland.” Jealous said his lifelong stutter at times makes him substitute words that are easier to say. He said that Hogan’s latest video in particular “encourages the bullying of young people” who have speech impediments.
Whether those videos have caused bullying is unclear. But they have made the situation ripe for anti-stammering prejudice. Some say in public forums that anyone who stutters should automatically not be considered for a high public office.
Such a view ignores how many politicians with speech impediments have done just fine in high office, including Joe Biden, Winston Churchill, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., former Virginia Congress Rep. Frank Wolf, and former Alaska Gov. Bill Sheffield. And if you really examine the public statements of politicians and others, you will find numerous hesitations, even repeating words and sounds at times. No one is perfect.
Since winning election in 2014 as only the second Republican governor of Maryland in almost 50 years, Hogan has tried to distance himself from Donald Trump, as much as a prominent Republican can do so. He criticized certain Trump statements and positions like separating children from parents at borders, though he supported many others, such as the tax bill.
However, these videos show how, behind the scenes, Hogan is more like Trump than many people realize. Making fun of pauses and speaking gaffes — whether they are due to a speech impediment, mistake or fatigue — is more Trump-like than many things Trump himself says and does.
Even if the odds are low that the gaffes were due to a speech impediment, the low-ball videos make Hogan appear as petty and callous as, well, Trump.
So why do polls show Hogan ahead?
In 2016, Maryland voters rejected Trump by almost two-to-one — 60% to 34%. Only Hawaii [62%–30%], California [61%–32%], and Massachusetts [60%–33%] gave Hillary Clinton larger margins among states, if you believe those election results were accurate and not influenced by Russian interference, voter Crosscheck purges, or the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series in more than a century.
Incidentally, two of the states that gave Trump his largest margins — West Virginia [68.5%–26%] and North Dakota [63%–27%] — have elected Democrats statewide who face highly-contested re-election bids.
So why is Hogan successful in Maryland, where Republicans have only won the governor’s race twice since 1969? One reason is his family and career background. His father, Larry Hogan Sr., was a Maryland Congress representative who was the first Republican on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon. The junior Hogan lost a close Congress race in 1992 to a longtime Democrat and served in the cabinet under the other Maryland Republican governor.
Another reason is that 2014 Democratic candidate Anthony Brown faced baggage for being the lieutenant governor who oversaw the start of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, which only enrolled about 4,000 people its first year. Hogan hammered him for that and numerous tax increases that passed in previous years.
As governor, Hogan has largely focused on education and economic issues, reaching out to rural areas that some say his predecessor largely ignored. While some say Hogan is not as moderate or anti-Trump as he appears in public, his tenure as governor since 2015 has been relatively free of scandal. He has benefited from a good economy, and even some Democrats say they are pleased with the direction of the state, as they ignore that the next governor will make important decisions on 2020 redistricting that could impact the state’s politics for years.
It’s a hard environment to campaign against. Jealous, a former NAACP president with a long history of progressive activism, says that polls do not reflect the many more new voters that are expected to turn out next month. We shall see.