Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is the second-most popular governor in the country, according to a national poll released Thursday.
Hogan, a Republican, has a 68 percent approval rating, the poll from the research group Morning Consult found. He's just three points behind another Republican, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, whose approval rating is at 71 percent.
With the state's legislative session now over, Hogan will kick off his re-election campaign. In the 2014 gubernatorial election, he pulled off an unexpected victory over Democratic nominee Anthony Brown, despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans by more than 2-to-1 in the state according to election board data.
College Republicans President Steven Clark called Hogan "a person of high character." He pointed to examples of the governor working with Democrats in the recent legislative session, such as a bill Hogan signed to help stabilize health care markets, and a crime bill Hogan supports that seeks to lengthen prison sentences for repeat gun offenders.
"We are in the minority in the General Assembly, but one of the major reasons why the governor is successful is he reaches out to everyone," said Clark, a junior government and politics major.
During Hogan's first term, his approval rating has steadily risen among Maryland adults. It peaked at 71 percent in late 2016 — an increase of nearly 30 points in less than two years, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.
Will O'Malley, spokesman for this university's College Democrats chapter, said he isn't surprised by Hogan's high approval rating, because there hasn't been a Democratic challenger to criticize the governor. O'Malley pointed to Bob Ehrlich, Maryland's last Republican governor before Hogan, who lost in his bid for re-election despite having a high approval rating.
In January 2006, 53 percent of Marylanders approved of Ehrlich, according to a Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies poll. But Ehrlich still fell to the Democratic challenger, Martin O'Malley — Will O'Malley's father — by more than six points in the general election that year.
"No one should take these approval ratings as a sign of whether or not Larry Hogan is in a good position for re-election," said O'Malley, a sophomore government and politics major.
O'Malley expects Hogan's approval to drop once a Democratic gubernatorial candidate is selected in Maryland's June 26 primary.
Seven Democrats are currently running to take on Hogan this fall. In a Goucher poll from February, 47 percent of Marylanders said they'll probably vote for Hogan this fall, and another 43 percent said they'd likely choose someone else.
"Expect the gloves to come off when we have a [Democratic] nominee," O'Malley said.
A Republican governor has not won re-election in Maryland since Theodore McKeldin in 1954.
Senior government and politics major Neel Divecha said he was "content" with Hogan, although he'd like to see the governor do more to protect the environment. Early in his term, Hogan was criticized for withdrawing several environmental regulations proposed by the O'Malley administration.
"I don't dislike him," Divecha said. "The work that he's done, it's pretty good. It could be better, but it's nothing for me to complain about or vote against him for."
"In a state like Maryland, you can't take hard-line stances against LGBTQ rights … or common-sense gun control measures, like a bump stock ban," Wilson said. "If we are to have a Republican governor, I would prefer it to be a moderate Republican like Larry Hogan."
Other students attributed Hogan's popularity in part to the governor's ability to distance himself from President Trump. Divecha noted that when the Trump administration announced in January it would seek to expand drilling off Maryland's coast, Hogan promptly came out against it.
"He makes it very clear and open that he's not pro-Trump and he does not support a lot of the policies that the Trump administration is trying to push," Divecha said.
O'Malley disagreed with that perception of Hogan, highlighting the governor's push for local law enforcement to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"I don't think [Hogan is] taking any principled stands against Trump," O'Malley said. "I think he's hiding under his desk in Annapolis."
Trump's approval rating is about 40 percent, according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll published this month.
"He's not Donald Trump," Clark said. "Some people may want him to be, but he's not."