The last time a Republican Won Maryland?
When you read the headline, you’re probably thinking about Larry Hogan. You would be wrong! To be fair, the title doesn’t mention a significant part. The part of the title that’s missing is referring to the last time a Republican PRESIDENT won Maryland. The answer to this is none other than recently passed President George Herbert Walker Bush. In 1988, when President Bush defeated the Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis by winning 426 electoral votes, 10 of those were from Maryland.
Yes, there have been times Republicans have won the state of Maryland in a Presidential year. Since World War II, out of the 18 Presidential races the Republican candidate has won 6 times. Unfortunately, 1988 is the most recent time. President Bush wasn’t the only the last Republican to win Maryland, he was also the last Republican to win California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Illinois, and Vermont. There’s a difference between Bush’s win in Maryland and the wins in these other states. It was a surprise victory that Bush won Maryland, while those other states in 1988 and prior went reliably in the Republican column during Presidential years.
A friend of mine goes back to Maryland politics since 1987 and was part of the Bush campaign in Maryland that year. According to his account, Lee Atwater, Bush’s campaign manager, made it clear to the campaign for Bush in Maryland that no money would be spent here. But in the end, Bush beat Dukakis here by almost 3% and just shy of 50,000 votes.
There are several ways you can analyze this. Just like Governor Hogan’s win this year in Maryland, Bush won the women’s vote; Like Hogan’s win this year, Bush won the working man’s vote; And like Hogan’s win this year, Bush won the independents and moderate Democrats by making sure the voters knew the other choice was an out of touch leftist, or in the Hogan race . . . A SOCIALIST.
Bush won all but three of the Maryland jurisdictions, losing Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County. Montgomery County, at the time, was more of a swing county prior this year as President Reagan won it twice. And Prince George’s was just a few years shy of the last time a Republican won, that being Larry Hogan, Sr. who won the Prince George’s County Executive race in 1978.
As liberals might speculate, it was the racial tones of the Willie Horton ad that might have made Maryland go in the George Bush column. Willie Horton, furloughed from a Massachusetts prison, committed rape and attempted murder in Maryland while on a furlough. This was put in an ad that made its way in the 1988 airwaves.
As conservatives might speculate, it was George Bush taking Dan Rather to task live on the air. On January 26, 1988, Dan Rather tried to sting then Vice-President George Bush about the Iran Contra scandal plaguing the Reagan administration. George Bush literally gave it to Rather live on the air and told him he was being unprofessional and calling Rather out on his own insufficiencies, showing Bush wasn’t afraid to take on the media.
The middle of the road person might speculate, George Bush was running off a very popular and successful incumbent President of whom he was the Vice President. Bush was running as the third term of President Reagan and it wasn’t a time the country, nor the state of Maryland wanted to stray.
The reasons are plentiful, but maybe, just maybe, a big reason was that George H. W. Bush was a man of integrity and voters saw this. He had the class that some of his predecessors lacked and many would argue haven’t been matched since. There was a sense of dignity you could see he possessed in the way he spoke and how he carried himself. This was perhaps a reason why despite coming from money, he managed to make his own way in life.
Much of the media and the Democrats looked past this, Newsweek going as far as to say Bush had a “Wimp Factor.” They attempted to paint him as an out of touch ivy leaguer who was born into wealth. Well, it wasn’t President Bush’s family who made him fly 58 combat missions in World War II the last of which he almost died when he was shot down over the Pacific. His family didn’t make him relocate to Texas from Connecticut and become successful in the oil business. His family didn’t make him run for Congress and win twice in a swing district. His family didn’t appoint him the United Nations Ambassador or the Director of the C.I.A. and his family didn’t choose him to run as Vice President with Ronald Reagan. The nation saw the media and the Democrat’s painting of him as a false analogy, as did Maryland, and elected him on November 8, 1988.
As good things come to an end, in 1992 President Bush not win reelection being defeated by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. The state of the nation’s economy, Bush’s not being able to keep his “No New Taxes” promise, a much more charismatic Democrat opponent, and a third-party candidate helped seal his Administration’s fate. Maryland went a different way in 1992 as well, giving President Clinton his second-best showing in the nation outside of Arkansas. As any political junkie knows, we live in a heavily Democrat state.
In the end, you’re probably going to ask can a Republican win Maryland again? My answer . . . Yes, but there would have to be a series of combined factors that make it possible, just like the other times since World War II we’ve seen Maryland vote for a Republican . . . 1948 for Thomas Dewey, 1952 and 1956 for Dwight Eisenhower, 1972 for Richard Nixon, 1984 for Ronald Reagan, and 1988 for George H. W. Bush. It must be the right candidate who appeals to conservatives, moderates, and liberals. Maryland is easily among the five most Democratic states in the nation and for this to happen a Republican candidate must be able to gain heavy support in the swing states fairly early to move into campaigning in blue states.
As we say goodbye to President George Herbert Walker Bush, we should reflect on the reasons he was the last Republican to win in Maryland. Too many conservatives assume because of national excitement for a candidate can equal a win here. No matter what party you belong to, it’s extremely difficult to win more than 30-35 states in a Presidential election. President Bush won 40 of them. On top of the extraordinary life he led, this landslide victory in 1988 is one of the many things of what makes our departed leader unique.
May you rest easy Mr. President.