Maryland Democrats haven’t beaten Larry Hogan in a decade by highlighting his positions on abortion. Will it work in 2024?

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BALTIMORE -- The television ad displayed a photo of an unsmiling Larry Hogan alongside oversized words that the Republican “opposes a woman’s right to choose.”

The 30-second, Democratic-produced commercial aimed to remind voters of anti-abortion statements made by Hogan, 67, more than 30 years earlier.

It’s the sort of attack ad that could appear this year as Maryland Democrats seek to derail Hogan’s U.S. Senate candidacy.

Except that the ad is from the 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Hogan, who said the “disgraceful” spot misrepresented his position, went on to defeat Democrat Anthony Brown, now Maryland’s attorney general, and serve the first of his two four-year terms in Annapolis.

Ten years later, Democrats are betting that the political climate has changed in their favor — that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision’s abortion protections has generated new urgency in the abortion rights movement and galvanized its voters.

The Senate campaigns of Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and U.S. Rep. David Trone — who are vying for the Democratic nomination in the May 14 primary — are going after not only Hogan’s abortion record as governor, but his lesser-known positions as a congressional candidate in 1981 and 1992.

Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said Thursday that the strategy amounted to “scare tactics” that “will once again flop and fall flat.”

Trone and Alsobrooks are each staunch abortion rights supporters. Trone voted for legislation in 2022 — it did not pass — to codify abortion rights into federal law. Alsobrooks has pledged to immediately promote similar legislation, if elected to Congress. Hogan says he personally opposes abortion, but never sought to overturn Maryland law protecting the procedure.

In his 1981 campaign in the 5th Congressional District, a 24-year-old Hogan — according to three newspaper accounts — supported an anti-abortion, “human life” proposal that would give the unborn civil rights from the time of fertilization. Congress did not approve that proposed Constitutional amendment.

In a 1992 campaign for the same seat — once held by his father, Larry Hogan Sr. — Hogan wrote in a Prince George’s Journal voters’ guide that he backed abortion restrictions such as a 24-hour waiting period and counseling from a doctor about alternatives to an abortion.

Hogan lost both of those U.S. House races, but the Democrats’ strategy in 2014 and 2018 of trumpeting those earlier statements fell short. Hogan called the 2014 ads “lies,” and a Baltimore Sun news analysis said those ads “could be seen as misleading” because they used the present tense to describe Hogan’s old positions.

Hogan said at the time that while he was still opposed to abortion, he would not act as governor to restrict women’s reproductive rights.

Democrats say today that while he may have muted his opposition to abortion, the old statements — and his record as governor — suggest a Sen. Hogan would align with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who applauded the overturning of Roe v. Wade and has championed the national anti-abortion movement.

“What is relevant is that the positions that he took decades ago are consistent with his actions as governor, and his action as governor was to limit abortion care access in the state,” Alsobrooks told The Sun on Thursday. In 2022, Hogan vetoed legislation allowing nurse practitioners, midwives and other non-physician medical professionals to perform abortions in Maryland. The Democratic-controlled General Assembly overrode his veto.

McConnell helped recruit Hogan to run for the Senate vacancy created by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin after this year. Hogan faces minimal opposition in the Republican primary.

If Republicans gain a Senate majority in the November elections, McConnell will likely again be a key figure in approving or rejecting Supreme Court nominees whose decisions could continue to shape abortion law.

Democrats currently hold a 51-49 Senate majority. One Senate Democrat in a red state — West Virginia’s Joe Manchin — has also announced his retirement, posing a challenge for Democrats, who must also defend a handful of seats in states that Democratic President Joe Biden narrowly won in 2020.

“Abortion is definitely going to be a forefront issue,” said Flavio Hickel, an assistant political science professor at Washington College. “And if I was advising a Democratic candidate, I would probably say that it’s worthwhile to put out ads or social media content or talking points indicating Larry Hogan has a checkered history on this.”

Hogan’s campaign did not make him available for interviews.

Ricci, the spokesman, said in an emailed statement, “For over 30 years, Gov. Hogan has been on record opposing a federal ban on abortion. For eight years as governor, he kept his promise that he would not support anything that overturns Maryland law. He has a proven track record, and he has earned the trust of Marylanders.”

Abortion is a particularly sensitive issue for Hogan. Democrats, whose voters typically back abortion rights, have a more than 2-1 voter registration advantage in Maryland. Hogan would need sizable Democratic crossover support to win in November.

Although Hogan often declared as governor that Maryland abortion rights had been “settled” in a 1992 state referendum, he nevertheless clashed with the Democratic—controlled General Assembly over issues related to abortion access. He withheld $3.5 million in funding to train additional clinicians to perform abortions — money that his successor, Democratic Gov. Wes Moore, released on his first full day in office in 2023.

Moore has endorsed Alsobrooks and has been assisting her campaign. She said Moore, along with other Democrats, are “helping us to grow our grassroots support across the state, introducing us to a number of leaders with whom he has relationships, and also providing a bit of ground support for us.”

U.S. House Democratic leaders Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts have endorsed Trone, who lives in Montgomery County.

Following the toppling of Roe v. Wade, the Maryland General Assembly approved a measure last year to allow Maryland voters to decide this November whether to affirm the right in the Maryland Constitution.

Hogan told CNN on Feb. 14 that it is not “really necessary” for the state constitution to include abortion rights, but said he would not vote for a national ban on the procedure if elected to the U.S. Senate. Hogan, who lives in Anne Arundel County, did not say specifically whether he would vote against the ballot question, and his campaign did not respond to a question about it.

“At a time when Marylanders are fighting to guarantee abortion rights in our state constitution, Larry Hogan is insisting that protecting those rights is unnecessary,” Trone said in a statement. “We know that Maryland voters can’t trust Larry Hogan on abortion, because Mitch McConnell does.”

Voter turnout is typically high in presidential election years such as this one. Hogan’s two gubernatorial victories came in off years.

The presence of the Maryland ballot question on abortion, a volatile issue, in November could further drive voter interest in the candidates’ positions.

The day Hogan filed to run, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee immediately raised the issue with a statement that read: “A vote for Republican Larry Hogan is a vote to make Mitch McConnell Majority Leader and turn the Senate over to Republicans so they can pass a national abortion ban.”

Republicans counter that voters already know where Hogan stands.

“Marylanders know and trust Larry Hogan because they witnessed his eight-year record of success firsthand,” said Tate Mitchell, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “No amount of Democrat lies or desperation will change that.”