Surrounded by crabs, clams and light beer, outgoing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the major party candidates vying to succeed him converged at a rare joint event Wednesday near the very bottom of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Republican nominee Dan Cox and Democrat Wes Moore ate and mingled with supporters and political allies while Hogan said he was enjoying his last trip as governor to the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield — an annual pilgrimage for elected officials, candidates, lobbyists and the public.
“The crabs, and they even got some crab cakes and some fried clams, everything’s delicious,” Hogan said in an interview. “But it’s mostly about the people — just people from all over the state here and it’s a great time to just mingle and see what’s on their minds.”
What’s on the minds of most of Maryland’s political world is the race to replace the popular, two-term Republican governor — at least those who aren’t Hogan himself.
“I’m not paying that much attention to it. I’m focusing on me finishing it out,” Hogan told The Baltimore Sun as he held a beer and worked his way through the crowd.
Hogan, who is considering running for president in 2024 and said he’ll be returning to the early primary state of New Hampshire next week, is not supporting Cox, a freshman delegate and Donald Trump ally, whom he called a “conspiracy-theory-believing QAnon whack-job.” Though Cox said recently he is still actively seeking the governor’s support, Hogan told The Sun that’s not happening.
“He’s not working on it. He’s not going to get it,” Hogan said flatly.
Amid the roughly 4,000 attendees Wednesday, Moore and Cox had a brief interaction when the Democrat walked by the Republican’s tent that was plastered with his campaign signs and surrounded by supporters, but otherwise the two nominees kept their distance.
In separate interviews with reporters, they accused each other of lying on the campaign trail.
“My opponent has difficulty with democracy, and my opponent has difficulty with facts,” Moore said of Cox’s accusations recently that Moore wants to “defund the police,” a policy for which Moore has not advocated.
Cox, meanwhile, again accused Moore of being untruthful in his bestselling book, “The Other Wes Moore,” which was published in 2010.
The claim — that Moore was misleading in writing and discussing where he was born and raised — was addressed by Moore earlier this year, though Cox has resurfaced it in recent weeks in what Moore’s campaign has called a “desperate attempt” to distract from polling that shows Moore ahead.
In Crisfield, Cox said Moore was not from Baltimore but instead from Manhattan. Moore has talked and written at length about growing up partly in the Bronx — not Manhattan — and partly in Maryland.
While Cox’s support for policies like a nearly complete ban on abortions and his ties to Trump make him appear to be facing an uphill battle against Moore among the mostly Democratic general electorate, Cox also tried to turn attention away from those policies.
“The abortion issue is not even on the table right now in voters’ hearts,” Cox said. “The issue in front of us is, ‘Can they even pay for their own kids’ food?’ That’s what’s in front of us. And that’s what people need to understand. And that’s why we’re running strong and running very, very much for the win.”
He also called the issue over his attendance at the Jan. 6, 2021, election-denying rally outside the White House a distraction. After saying during a forum Tuesday night that it was a “smear” and “falsity” that he co-hosted buses that traveled to Washington, D.C. that day, Cox said Wednesday that his name was used to promote people to attend that day’s events and that he bought seven tickets for him and his family.
Maryland Policy & Politics
The appearances of both candidates plus the incumbent governor was a “very, very unusual” occurrence for the crab festival, said Bruce Bereano, a longtime lobbyist who hosts a large tent full of politicians and lobbyists every year.
“But it’s an unusual year,” said Bereano, wearing a maroon T-shirt that simply read, “lobbyists have issues.”
Bereano is supporting Moore in the governor’s race and hosted both him and Hogan in the tent Wednesday. He said he’s confident Moore will win against what he called Cox’s extremist policies and past.
“Aside from his talents and abilities and appeal,” Bereano said of Moore, “this state is a middle temperament state.”
Heather Mizeur, the Democratic nominee who hopes to unseat U.S. Rep. Andy Harris to represent Crisfield and other parts of the Eastern Shore in Congress, cracked open a crab claw and dipped it in butter as she talked about her own campaign message of uniting against polarization and political violence.
The annual crabfest, in the district she’s been touring for nearly two years as a congressional candidate, is an important step toward the end of a long election.
“It’s a rite of passage in Maryland politics to come enjoy hot crabs, cold beer, fun politics,” said Mizeur, her hands dusty with Old Bay seasoning as she sat a few tents over from Harris’ supporters. “I feel like we’re always showcasing the beauty of the Eastern Shore and some of what makes the 1st District so phenomenal.”