Politics

RNC 2020 buzz: Trump ... vs. Hogan?

Speculation grows over president's GOP challenger

(CNN) - The Republican National Committee formally kicked off the 2020 campaign season by bestowing President Donald Trump with its "undivided support" on Friday. But while the party merges its organizational efforts with the Trump campaign, there is still an expectation that someone will join the race.

But who?

One name that came up repeatedly -- and unprompted -- in conversations with committee members and operatives here in New Mexico this week: Maryland's Larry Hogan.

The blue state Republican governor was just elected to his second term by nearly 12 percentage points and still enjoys high approval ratings in his home state. He currently serves as the vice chairman of the bipartisan National Governors Association.

There's been no indication of any concrete steps toward a primary bid and a spokesperson for Hogan did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

Hogan first rose to national prominence in 2015 when riots broke out in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Months later, he announced he was battling "very advanced and very aggressive" non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer which he has since overcome.

A moderate Republican who has Democratic supermajorities in both chambers of his state's legislature, Hogan has also become one of the rare Republican lawmakers to criticize the President.

Not shy with criticism

During his second inaugural address in mid-January, Hogan was introduced by former Florida governor and 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Referencing the lives of the late former President George H.W. Bush, Sen. John McCain, and his late father, Hogan didn't reference Trump by name but called "for something better and more noble than the politics of today."

"Let's repudiate the debilitating politics practiced elsewhere -- including just down the road in Washington -- where insults substitute for debate, recriminations for negotiation, and gridlock for compromise; where the heat, finger-pointing and rancor suffocates the light, and the only result is divisiveness and dysfunction," he said. "Most of us are sick and tired of all that drama."

Visiting with Transportation Security Administration officials at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Hogan slammed both sides on the 34th day of the record-breaking government shutdown.

"It's absurd and ridiculous, and every single person in Washington is to blame," Hogan said, according to CNN affiliate WBAL. "It's, like, it's crazy. It's 'If I don't get my wall, I'm going to shut down the government.' And, 'If you don't open the government, you can't speak in our chamber.' It's a bunch of 2-year-olds, you know?"

Earlier this week, multiple news outlets floated the possibility of a Hogan presidential run.

What would it look like?

The timing of a presidential bid remains to be seen and some Republican operatives have dismissed the buzz around Hogan as a profile-building exercise in anticipation of a run down the road. But blue state Republican governors once made for attractive national candidates: Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, is the former governor of liberal Massachusetts, and New Jersey's Chris Christie was once the belle of the Republican ball.

Hogan has drawn comparisons with Christie, with whom he is close. Both are seen as moderate Republicans in blue states and enjoyed high favorability in their first terms. When Christie made a bid for the presidency in 2016, it was clear that his opportunity had passed.

Hogan's second term will be up in 2022, leaving him plenty of time to mount a bid in the 2024 election.

"Hogan is a popular Republican in a Democratic state and there are a lot of folks that talk about the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill. There's some nostalgia for across-the-aisle bipartisanship," said one meeting attendee who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"Everyone said Christie's time expired and he had too many missteps in his second term. If Hogan avoids all that, he's totally fine. He's not fine if he pursues this (a challenge to Trump) in 2020. Even if he pursues it a little," the attendee said. But several Republicans suggested that Hogan could be a formidable candidate in 2024.

A 2020 primary challenge to the incumbent President would be a heavy lift against the juggernaut of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Republican Party, a political David versus Goliath.

"We are going to have primaries, it's going to end up leading to a convention setting in 2020. As always, it most likely would be some competition out there, would be my guess. And with that said, we'll just continue to watch that but this is a country that depends upon a free electoral process," said committee member John Hammond of Indiana.

"But the incumbent will have all the advantage that an incumbent will have and the Republican National Committee is in a position where they want to be very supportive of the re-election of the President," Hammond added.


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