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Elections

Wes Moore enters general election campaign pitching ‘optimism’ versus ‘conspiracy theories’ in governor matchup against Dan Cox

The high-stakes matchup over who will replace two-term Gov. Larry Hogan is set as both Democrat Wes Moore and Republican Dan Cox won their parties’ primaries in competitive and prolonged races.

Moore, a first-time candidate who built an energetic campaign among well-funded and experienced opposition, was on track to take roughly a third of the Democratic vote as tens of thousands of mail-in ballots from Tuesday’s primary were still being counted Saturday. The Associated Press called the race for Moore late Friday as his lead over second-place finisher Tom Perez was considered insurmountable.

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Cox, a far-right conservative legislator endorsed by former President Donald Trump, secured his nomination on primary night, defeating the Hogan-endorsed Kelly Schulz.

Moore, celebrating his win Saturday in Baltimore, said much is on the line.

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“It’s a choice between unity and division. It’s a choice between a future built on hope and optimism versus a future built on cynical policies of conspiracy theories and fear. It’s a future and it’s a choice between the values that we embrace as Marylanders and Donald Trump’s divisive and dangerous MAGA movement,” Moore said while surrounded by Democratic elected officials and allies.

Political observers give Moore a strong chance in Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, against Cox.

The Republican nominee came out swinging Friday — both before and after the Democratic race was called.

“It is clear: Moore is LESS for Maryland,” Cox wrote in one of two fundraising emails that referred to Moore as a “socialist,” while criticizing him for asking guests at a recent event to show a COVID-19 vaccination card proving they’d received “the experimental jabs” against the virus. The vaccines have undergone clinical trials and are not experimental; seeking to overturn pandemic mediation measures such as vaccine and mask mandates has been a hallmark of Cox’s campaign.

Both candidates brought up Trump in their victory speeches, with Cox thanking the former president. Moore pointedly criticized Cox for his “unwavering allegiance to Donald Trump,” his actions to support Trump’s baseless election fraud claims and his funding of buses to take supporters to Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

Moore also touched on other policies that Cox has pledged to enact while in office, including restricting abortion access and reducing funding for public schools.

“Abortion access is on the ballot. Public school funding is on the ballot. A $15 minimum wage is on the ballot. The future of our environment is on the ballot,” Moore said.

If he wins in November, Moore would become the first Black governor in Maryland’s history. Both of the previous Democratic nominees — Ben Jealous in 2018 and Anthony Brown in 2014 — would have broken that barrier, but were unable to defeat Hogan, a moderate who became the first Maryland Republican in six decades to win reelection to the office.

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Hogan, who supported Schulz while calling Cox “crazy” during the primary, is confident of Moore’s chances.

“I think there’s no race at all. I think Wes Moore is going to be the new governor,” Hogan said Friday.

With his victory in the primary, Moore defeated not just nine others in a field packed with experienced federal and state officials, but overcame some controversies that boiled up as his momentum took hold.

He filed a formal complaint against a rival who Moore claimed anonymously spread a dossier that alleged Moore embellished his childhood ties to Baltimore. The claim against Moore was that he did not correct interviewers, in conversations about his bestselling autobiography, about having been born and raised in the city. Versions of his book that were printed with an incorrect book jacket synopsis also became an issue.

Moore said he had been “very clear and transparent” in the book, “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates,” which documented his life and the life of another man with the same name who is serving life without parole in the murder of an off-duty police officer. The book’s publisher, Random House, provided a statement to the Moore campaign saying he flagged the incorrect synopsis twice and, in 2021, Random House “corrected all subsequent print runs of the book.”

He also forcefully fought back against a similar allegation that he did not correct two instances in which television interviewers inaccurately said he was awarded a Bronze Star. Those were among “hundreds of interviews” he’d done over the years and were subsequently being used in “desperate attacks,” he said at the time.

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Despite those and other barbs thrown by his Democratic rivals, most of the top candidates quickly rallied around Moore as the nominee.

“Now is the time for us to unite,” Perez said in his concession Saturday. Comptroller Peter Franchot, running third on the 10-person ballot, congratulated Moore and his running mate, former state Del. Aruna Miller of Montgomery County.

Moore’s news conference also sought to evoke a vision of a united Democratic front, with elected officials like House Speaker Adrienne Jones, U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott were among the many party leaders in attendance.

Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat who won the nomination for state comptroller, said she was excited to run as a member of a “historic Democratic ticket.”

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“We will run a coordinated campaign effort with Democrats up and down the ballot,” said Lierman, who would become the first woman independently elected to a statewide office in Maryland.

As of Saturday evening, Moore had secured about 172,000 votes — about 34% of the vote in the crowded primary.

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His lead had narrowed since Tuesday, when in-person voting numbers showed him with about 37% of the vote, compared with Perez’s 27% and Franchot’s 20%. Election workers were not allowed to begin counting hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots until Thursday, and about 133,000 had been counted as of mid-Saturday, according to the State Board of Elections.

The number of mail-in ballots left to count continued to climb as ballots postmarked by Tuesday trickled into local election offices. The latest numbers showed at least 92,000 left to tally.

The returns so far showed Moore punching above his statewide average in some of the largest areas, like Baltimore City and Baltimore County, where he was leading with 38% and 36% of the vote, respectively. But potentially his strongest showing appeared to be in Prince George’s County, where he had 48% of the populous majority-Black county.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who endorsed Moore, said at the event Saturday that her constituents could be considered “a game changer” in the race.

“When they say, ‘Leave no one behind,’ I believe them,” Alsobrooks said of Moore and Miller. “I know that they see us. It is very difficult to represent people you don’t know or understand. And they know us, and they understand us.”


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