The returns from mail-in ballots have slightly narrowed the gap between Wes Moore and Tom Perez at the top of the field for Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination even as some TV news organizations called race for Moore.
Both candidates’ campaigns said Friday they were encouraged by those returns, which showed Moore with a roughly 32,000-vote lead over Perez with at least 119,500 mail-in ballots still uncounted by 7 p.m.
“We have not declared victory,” said Brian Jones, a spokesman for Moore’s campaign.
Also Friday, Comptroller Peter Franchot, running third in the sprawling nine-candidate race, became the latest candidate to concede.
Local elections boards met Thursday to start opening hundreds of thousands of ballots mailed in or left in drop boxes for what was expected to be the first of multiple days of canvassing.
With roughly 93,500 mail-in ballots counted, the vote tally Friday evening showed Moore with 34% of the votes, compared with 28% for Perez. The margin Tuesday, which reflected totals from eight days of early voting, plus ballots cast on primary day itself, was about 37% for Moore and 27% for Perez.
Franchot, at 22% of the vote, had made slight gains with the mail-in returns, but his concession was an acknowledgment he had little chance of catching the front-runners.
In a statement, the four-term comptroller said “it is vital that Marylanders come together to elect a Democrat to be the next governor. I stand ready to ensure this happens and encourage Marylanders to make sure their voices are heard in November!”
Perez’s campaign was projecting confidence even as some television networks — including NBC, CBS and CNN — indicated Moore was the likely winner. The Associated Press had not called the race by 7 p.m. Friday because of the outstanding mail-in votes.
The initial tallying of those votes left Perez’s team “incredibly encouraged,” campaign manager Sean Downey said in a statement. He pointed to Perez’s gains in the first round but also that up to 80,000 votes remain in Montgomery County, Perez’s home and the largest pool of voters compared to any other area of the state.
Perez secured 1,904 of the Montgomery County mail-in ballots in the first returns. Franchot received 617 of those votes and Moore had 547. Perez also dominated in the county in already-counted in-person votes.
Statewide, nearly 213,000 Democrats had returned ballots in total, though that number still may increase as local election boards receive mail postmarked by Tuesday. Ballots that were postmarked by the primary day may count as long as they’re received by July 29, the boards’ initial deadline to certify votes.
“Put simply, it’s too early to call this race,” Downey said earlier Friday. “We agree with the Moore campaign that as of today, with 134,000 uncounted received ballots and 170,000 additional outstanding ballots not yet recorded, no candidate is in a position to claim victory.”
Thousands of mail-in ballots also remained in the Republican primary, though Del. Dan Cox was declared the winner of his party’s nomination for governor Tuesday.
With about 23,400 of the roughly 46,100 Republican mail-in ballots counted as of 7 p.m. Friday, Cox maintained a 33,000-vote lead — about 13 percentage points — over former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz.
Schulz had not conceded as of Friday afternoon. But outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who endorsed Schulz, has acknowledged Cox’s win and commented on its effect on Republicans’ chances of holding the office he’s won twice and in which he’s remained popular.
“I think there’s no race at all. I think Wes Moore is going to be the new governor,” Hogan said Friday, going with the early Democratic returns and predicting Cox would “probably lose by 30 points.”
At issue, he and other political observers say, is Cox’s ultraconservative positions and his ties to former President Donald Trump, including his continued belief that Trump lost in 2020 only through false claims of election fraud. Hogan and Schulz have referred to Cox as “crazy,” while Schulz promised to follow in Hogan’s moderate Republican footsteps.
Franchot’s exit, meanwhile, followed a string of other concessions from the other Democratic candidates.
Maryland Policy & Politics
The comptroller’s loss will mark the end of decades of nonstop service in elected office. Before his first election as the state’s chief fiscal officer in 2006, Franchot served two decades in the House of Delegates.
He was the first candidate in the race, announcing in January 2020 that he would run. He was also the most experienced in a field packed with Democratic candidates who had lengthy political resumes.
And though he maintained a narrow lead in the polls that showed him around 20% throughout the campaign season, that appeared to be the maximum amount of support he would receive — while Moore and Perez both showed they could grow their bases of support in the final months.
“I am proud that despite the tone this election sometimes took, we ran a positive campaign and maintained our commitment to our values. We did not attack or disparage, or seek to anger and divide,” Franchot wrote.
The other candidates who had conceded as of Friday were: Jon Baron, a nonprofit executive; former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler; Ashwani Jain, a former Obama White House official; John. B. King, who was education secretary in the Obama administration; Jerome M. Segal, an author and founder of the socialist Bread and Roses Party, and teacher Ralph Jaffe.
While several other races remained too close to call Friday night, The Associated Press called two Republican congressional race primaries. Nicolee Ambrose defeated five other candidates to win the nomination in the 2nd Congressional District and Yuripzy Morgan beat four others in the 3rd Congressional District. Ambrose will face U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger and Morgan will face U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes in the fall.
Baltimore Sun reporter Darcy Costello contributed to this report.