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Dan Cox and Wes Moore have roughly 100 days to sway Maryland voters


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The race between Del. Dan Cox and Wes Moore to become Maryland’s next governor will be a showcase of contrasts, a chance for Democrats to flex the muscle of their dominant registration advantage as Republicans attempt to hold onto outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s gains and not retreat in Annapolis.

The candidate’s sharp political differences are magnified by their dramatically different life stories and world views. And with Cox’s Trump-inspired wing of the Republican Party set against Moore’s desire to set a new course for Maryland’s Democratic Party, the fight for the governor’s mansion could reverberate down the ticket.

There’s roughly 100 days before Maryland voters decide between Cox, an attorney and one-term state lawmaker, and Moore, a best-selling author and former head of an anti-poverty organization. Political analysts and others are projecting a lopsided contest with far-reaching implications for how the state is governed.

“It’s like an NFL team playing against a Little League,” said former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Douglas Gansler when asked about the contest.

Democrats are not taking it for granted in a year when inflation is high and poll numbers for President Biden are low. Moore said people did not take Trump nor Hogan seriously when they launched their bid, and he would not make the same mistake with Cox.

Where does Larry Hogan go from here?

Cox and his running mate, Gordana Schifanelli, have cast their victory on social media as a win for returning Maryland’s Republican Party to more conservative principles than Hogan espoused.

“It is on US to fix our state,” Schifanelli wrote on her Facebook page on Wednesday, adding, “You proved to the world that our Maryland has hope and that our country is NOT FOR SALE to Globalist progressives disguised as Republicans. Only one Republican ticket is pure: Cox/Schifanelli; Only Cox/Schifanelli can win the General Election.”

Voters’ choices are clear.

Moore emphasizes big ambitions on liberal priorities: steps toward ending child poverty, better education opportunities, a more equitable economy, a state leader on climate policy and enhanced protection of abortion rights, among others. Cox highlights constitutional freedoms, curtailing abortion rights, letting parents restrict school curriculum, ending the ban on fracking and setting up a refinery in Maryland, and forbidding pandemic restrictions.

“We know what’s at stake … It’s a choice between unity and division,” Moore said at a news conference Saturday, the day after the race was called. “It’s a choice between a future built on hope and optimism versus a future built on cynical pillars of conspiracy theories and fear. … Dan Cox is so far outside the mainstream that I believe he would be dangerous for our families and communities if he were allowed anywhere near the Governor’s office.”

Analysts advised Moore to continue coalition building in an overwhelmingly Democratic state and warn Republicans that the Trump-endorsement that catapulted Cox’s primary victory could sink the party in November.

“Republicans couldn’t have nominated a poorer candidate … He’s fully clothed in the Trump brand,” said Quincey Gamble, a veteran Democratic strategist.

Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore County), a strong supporter of Hogan’s protegee, former commerce secretary Kelly Schulz, said he’d hope that Cox switches gears as he heads into the general election with a platform that deals with issues at the front of voters’ minds, particularly crime and inflation.

“Winning a primary is not winning a general election,” West said, noting that the one-term delegate won with a “simple message of ‘Trump endorsed me.’ ”

That message, he said, will not translate into a win in a state where Trump won just 32 percent of the vote in the 2020 presidential election, which Cox has called “stolen.”

“You’ve indicated where you stand on that issue,” West said. “But now you need to reach out to the Republicans who did not vote for you, and they were nearly half, and the independents and the persuadable Democrats.”

Both parties have divisions to heal.

2022 Maryland primary elections results

While Cox and Michael Peroutka, the GOP Attorney General nominee, won by decisive margins, their victory wedged divisions in the party that may not be healed by November. Cox may have trouble persuading all Republican voters to cast a ballot for him.

On the night of Cox’s victory, longtime GOP activist Brian Griffiths announced he’d decamp from the party he joined as a teen and once helped steer, writing in his newsletter that he’d drop his affiliation when the voter registration window opens.

Voters “decided to piss on the successful legacy of the Republicans who came before them and nominated candidates for Governor and Attorney General who are wholly unqualified for office and completely incapable of winning,” Griffiths wrote.

West, who congratulated all GOP primary winners, said he disagreed with the governor’s decision to publicly say he would not support Cox. West said he’s taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“I would consider publicly standing beside them, if their issues resonate with voters as the months go on,” he said. “The governor went further than I would go. I wouldn’t say that [I wouldn’t endorse].”

Gansler said he expects Democrats to emerge from the primary more united than he’s witnessed before, citing an absence of infighting typical among campaigns and their supporters. And the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe vs. Wade will motivate voters committed to abortion rights to ensure a Democrat holds the governor’s mansion, he said.

Democrats already have a built-in advantage, with their registered voters making up more than half of the electorate. For GOP candidates, winning statewide office requires a coalition of Republicans and independent voters, something Cox was confident he could build but political analysts were not. Some cautioned that having Cox and Peroutka, who has past ties to the League of the South, an Alabama-based organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group, atop the ticket would reverberate down ballot and cause state wide losses for the party, even when Republicans nationwide might benefit from the political climate.

“It’ll be a bad year nationally for Democrats, but we’re seeing in state after the state, that Republican gains are being stymied by bad nominees,” said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College.

Eberly said that far-right candidates will have far-reaching implications for Maryland Republicans up and down the ballot.

“Even in a wave election, candidates still matter, and the GOP voters are tempting fate by nominating seemingly unelected candidates,” he said. “With Cox and Peroutka atop the GOP ticket, it’s going to be a massacre for the GOP. I think any Republican in a merely competitive race should be scared,” he said.

The stakes are also high for Democrats, who despite the prolonged wait for results pledged unity and vowed not to take the election for granted. Moore said his campaign will try to reach independents and Schulz voters too.

“I also say to Republicans as well, if you look at Dan Cox and if your vision for the future of Maryland is not one that pledges unwavering allegiance to Donald Trump,” he said, “if that’s not where you are, we’re going to ask you for your vote.”

Democrats are trying to emerge from eight years in a weakened position, where priorities in the legislature required a veto-proof majority to pass and the governor forced Democrats to moderate their ambition. If they prevail in November, Democrats could dominate all branches of government.

One of the key priorities for Democrats is the implementation of a multibillion dollar plan to improve academic achievement in public schools — a measure Cox opposed. He has called public schools “indoctrination centers” where children are “brainwashed” about sexual and gender identity.

In some ways, the stakes are even higher for the Republicans, who without the governor’s mansion lose both leverage in policy negotiations and the megaphone the office affords.

Cox did not respond to an interview request about the upcoming election. But the day after the primary, he appeared on Fox & Friends and said he wants to end coronavirus mitigation measures and “restore freedoms” that Maryland residents tell him they want back. He believes his message will resonate in Democratic strongholds.

“They want to make sure that everything that God gave us is something that the government will never take away again,” he said, raising a copy of the Maryland Constitution as he spoke.

Cox went on to say he wanted make sure “that our children are safe in their schools and that they’re not indoctrinated,” citing “specific policies to eliminate the CRT [critical race theory], divisive anti-American Marxism that we see in going in Maryland, as well as our gender indoctrination.”

Why Maryland is still counting votes days after the primary

He said he wanted to forbid transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports, and “end” crime through immigration policy.

“We have one of the worst catch-and-release, illegal alien states in America, where they’re bringing them in by night,” he said without offering further explanation. “Some of them might be wonderful people, but we need to do this legally. Because at the end of the day, we have MS-13 and cartels running the streets. That’s going to end on my watch.”

One of the hosts asked Cox if he needed moderate his message given Maryland is a Democratic state that Biden won by a large margins. Cox said constitutional rights are important to everyone, and pivoted to the price of gas.

“People are in pain at the pump,” he said. “They’re seeing the Biden debacle and saying there’s got to be a better path, and we intend to provide it.”

Maryland Republican Party Chairman Dirk Haire embraced the national head winds Democrats are facing said GOP candidates up and down the ballot have a clear message to send to voters.

“It doesn’t matter what candidate,” said Haire, “We’ll really stick to themes tackling cost of living escalation and parental involvement in schools.”

Haire, whose wife Jessica Haire is the GOP nominee to be Anne Arundel County Executive, said his expectation is the party will benefit from unaffiliated voters who blame Biden and Democrats for inflation.

“It looks like it’s going to be a good year, trend wise, for Republicans,” he said.



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