The top Republican leader in the Maryland Senate declined to endorse his party’s nominee for governor Tuesday as Republicans continue to grapple with far-right conservative Dan Cox at the top of the ticket.
Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire, speaking about the need to break Democrats’ supermajority control in the General Assembly, said he was solely focused on the candidates for state Senate and had no plans to endorse any of the statewide nominees.
Those nominees include Cox, a 2020 election denier who won his primary largely because of his support from former President Donald Trump.
A lawyer and first-term state delegate, Cox has continued to promote his loyalty to Trump and his populist agenda even as he competes for the wider Maryland general electorate that rejected Trump by large margins in 2020.
As recently as Saturday, he was in the crowd for the former president’s rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and got a shoutout when Trump went on a roughly minute-long denunciation of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
“He’s got a tough race, but I’m very proud of him,” Trump said before taking credit for Cox’s primary win, prompting Cox to stand up in the arena, smile, wave and give two thumbs-up.
Trump went on, pledging to help Cox while Hogan has vowed not to.
“And this is my fault — I’m sorry, Dan — Larry Hogan is not going to be supporting you only because I am supporting you,” Trump said. “So I don’t know what that means, but I can tell you that Maryland has a great man running. And I hope you’re going to do well and we’re going to be out there helping you.”
While it’s unclear whether Trump will hold a similar rally in Maryland, local Republicans have continued to split on whether they will help their nominee in the highest-profile race of the year.
His nomination — along with that of attorney general nominee Michael Peroutka, who has promoted conspiracy theories and was a member of a confederate group — has presented a particular challenge for moderate Republicans.
Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican, supported Hogan’s hand-picked nominee in the primary, former Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz.
“There’s only one Republican candidate who can win statewide, and that is Kelly Schulz,” he said in a statement at the time of his endorsement.
In a virtual news conference Tuesday, he railed against his Democratic colleagues’ “far left agenda” and said his caucus is pushing to win the four additional seats needed to break Democrats’ veto-proof majority, which has allowed them to bypass Hogan on major legislation that Republicans have opposed.
“Marylanders are tired of partisanship and they’re looking for balance,” Simonaire said.
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Asked about the governor’s race, Simonaire repeatedly turned back to the legislative candidates and the idea of serving as a check on the other party’s total control.
“When you’re talking about balance, that’s what we’re focused on no matter who’s in the governor’s office,” Simonaire said. “And I tell you it’s taken 110% of our time to focus on that.”
State Sen. Justin Ready, another member of GOP leadership who serves as minority whip, also appeared in the news conference, claiming a recent uptick in violent crime will continue if Republicans aren’t in positions of power to stop progressive legislation.
Ready, of Carroll County, also endorsed Schulz but told The Sun after the July 19 primary that he would support Cox.
Simonaire said he spoke to Cox at one point and that they agreed about “focusing on the issues that are important to Maryland,” but they left it there. “We said, look, we need to focus on our own races.”
And while he flatly said “no” when asked if he thinks Cox’s presence at the top of the ticket will have a negative down-ballot effect on legislative candidates, another senator jumped in to say Hogan’s elections proved “the governor has no coattails.”
“I tried to attach myself as strongly as I could to Gov. Hogan’s coattails,” Baltimore County Sen. Chris West said of his election in 2018. “I barely squeaked through on my own, with no assistance from the governor at all.”