Dia Simms sees potential in Wes Moore as Maryland’s first Black governor, and, maybe, the country’s second Black president. That’s why the Howard County businesswoman has hosted six fundraisers across the state for the Democrat.

“I have supported Wes’ vision and humanity since the day I met him,” said Simms, who is president of the Lebron James-backed tequila Lobos 1707. “Coming from the point of view as a Black professional, a divided nation is bad for business ... He’s a problem solver. He has the experience of being on the front line — not figuratively; literally. He brings something we haven’t seen from our politicians.”

Maryland’s upwardly mobile Black professionals, like Simms, are organizing like never before to elect Moore, an achievement that two prior Black candidates ― Anthony Brown in 2014 and Ben Jealous in 2018 ― could not accomplish. They have hosted events in their homes and restaurants. Some have traveled to The Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard, where they paid thousands of dollars to attend fundraisers with celebrities like Spike Lee.

Of the $16 million Moore has brought in this campaign, he’s raised more money than previous candidates from more residents in Maryland’s majority-Black census tracts, according to a Baltimore Banner analysis.

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Part of the support is due to Moore’s unique national position — he’s the only one of nine Black candidates running for governor not taking on a Republican incumbent or running as a third-party candidate. That means Moore, who has consistently led Republican state Del. Dan Cox according to polling, has the best chance to win and become the nation’s fifth Black governor and only the third elected to the position. Cox’s campaign did not respond to questions for this article.

Moore’s ability to consolidate support from Black voters was crucial to his victory in the nine-candidate primary, political professionals said, and those voters will be central to Tuesday’s outcome. Many hope this will be a crucial step in a potential bid to become the second Black president of the United States.

An ‘ignored’ group

The Murphy family of Reisterstown are among those inspired by Moore. Jason Murphy, a Baltimore native and retired offensive lineman who finished his playing career with the Ravens in 2011, owns several businesses in Maryland, including a fleet of Amazon delivery vans, and Robyn Murphy is a communications consultant. The couple have hosted a dozen Moore fundraisers.

“We’ve always been politically and civically active. We are deeply philanthropic, and we’ve donated here and there to political candidates over the years, but this is the first time we’ve ever been all-in, willing to max out our contributions to a candidate,” Robyn said.

Michael K. Fauntroy, an associate professor of policy and government and director of the Race, Politics, and Policy Center in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, thinks that upwardly mobile Black people in Maryland are either ignored or other people are unaware that they exist, despite Prince George’s County having long been the wealthiest Black county in the country until it was overtaken by Charles County.

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“When you drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and across the Eastern Shore of Maryland, or even in Western Maryland, you will meet people — primarily white people — with no real sense of the size, shape, and form of the Black professional class in Maryland or the country more generally,” he said.

Karen Miller, a Baltimore-based crisis management consultant and political fundraiser, thinks that Black professionals with money are Moore’s secret weapon.

Miller, who has been a political fundraiser since 2010, worked for Democratic candidate Tom Perez in the gubernatorial primary. Miller believes Moore’s early traction with professional Black people ensured his victory.

Karen Miller, a politicial fundraiser, poses for a portrait from outisde of her waterfront office on the harbor. Miller has worked for Tom Perez’s campaign as well as those of Antonio Hayes and Shannon Sneed. (Paul Newson)

“Wes had a lot of influential Black support very early ... People didn’t take that into consideration very early,” said Miller, whose company Karen Miller Consulting is based in Fells Point.

The belief that Black people do not have the money to donate to campaigns or the political savvy to elect a candidate has historically been at work when shaping views of the Black demographic, according to Miller.

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“More and more African Americans are feeling empowered regardless of how we have been treated by the status quo,” Miller said.

As one of the few Black women political fundraisers in the state, Miller said it was initially difficult to get Black people to donate to Black candidates “because they weren’t accustomed to being asked. There was an immediate hesitation. But once they found out what it was about they wanted to help.”

Barak Obama’s campaign helped to change donation habits and perceptions, she said.

Moore’s fundraising strength

Moore, who has previously worked in finance and as CEO of an anti-poverty nonprofit, has been a fundraising force in his first run for office.

He and his running mate Aruna Miller raised nearly $6 million over a two-month reporting period from Aug. 23 to Oct. 23 — bringing the campaign’s total fundraising haul to more than $16 million since Moore launched his campaign in June 2021. His opponent, Republican gubernatorial Dan Cox, estimates he has raised a total of $1.3 million over the course of the campaign.

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Maryland campaign finance data does not identify a donor’s race, but Moore has also outraised the past gubernatorial campaigns of both Brown and Jealous in majority Black census tracts, according to a Baltimore Banner data analysis.

Moore had 1.4 times as many donations as Jealous in non-majority Black tracts, but 1.9 times as many donation in majority Black tracts. Likewise, Moore received 5.5 times as many donations from majority Black tracts as Brown, and 2.5 times as much money from those census tracts as Brown.

Moore does better than Jealous and Brown in four Maryland jurisdictions examined by The Banner: Prince George’s, Charles, Baltimore City, and Baltimore County — all with established affluent Black communities. Majority white census tracts in Prince George’s County are the only population where Moore underperforms both Jealous and Brown.

Moore’s average donation in majority Black census tracts — $262 — was less than Brown’s — $579. But Moore was able to convince many more people living in those tracts to give to his campaign. Jealous’ average donation from those same areas was $125.

When the Moore campaign was asked to comment about the impact of Black professionals on their success, Brian Adam Jones, spokesperson for the campaign, responded in an email: “We understand and appreciate how much this campaign has inspired people from all walks of life in Maryland and across the country who see the opportunity to make Wes Moore governor of Maryland and change the trajectories of families who have been left behind.”

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Why Moore resonates

Moore’s policy plans also speak to affluent Black voters, they say.

Moore’s plans include expanding child care tax credits; funding and supporting HBCUs; expanding workforce training; diversifying the pipeline of school teachers; and ensuring business tax credits go to Black companies.

“We are going to be a state that is going to support our small businesses, our microbusinesses, our MBEs [minority-owned businesses] and our WBEs [women-owned businesses], fixing broken procurement policies to ensure that we can get our fair share of investments,” Moore said at a September Democratic Party event in Prince George’s County.

He has alluded to health disparities, mentioning his father dying from an improperly diagnosed and treated infection.

“I think Wes resonates with Black people in general — but professional Black people specifically. He epitomizes many of the values that have been instilled in us: faith, family, education, and service,” said Karenthia Barber, chair of the Baltimore City Democratic Party. “Many of us were taught to get a good education, work hard and then you will succeed. And when you succeed, you give back to the community. He lives that.”

Simms is drawn to Moore’s experience — particularly in the nonprofit world.

“I think what you see from Black professionals is someone who understands that communities need to have access. I’m inspired by that,” she said. “We’re neglecting all of these riches of cultures and opportunities in underserved communities. Let’s untap that.”

Dr. Nia Banks was one of the hosts of a fundraiser for Wes Moore in April at the Ritz Carlton Residence where she owns the Art of Balance Spa. Pictured are Wes Moore, Dr. Nia Banks and Dawn Moore (Courtesy of Dr. Nia Banks)

As a small business owner, Dr. Nia Banks said that she likes Moore’s plans to train workers and ultimately provide “alternative paths to worth.” She also mentioned his support of a child tax credit.

Ultimately, it’s Moore’s ability to connect with all people that will result in a successful gubernatorial bid, according to former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who in 1989 became the first African American elected governor in the U.S.

“People recognize and see that this person is not running as a Black person. If you are not appealing to all people, why are you running?” said Wilder, a distinguished professor at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Obama recognized that. He was criticized for that. He appealed to all people.”

What makes Moore’s run different?

Fauntroy, the George Mason scholar, believes that Moore has several factors working in his favor that Jealous and Brown did not.

“Ben Jealous ran for governor of Maryland based on the strength of his national reputation, not on the strength of any Maryland connections. He grew up in Sacramento. He came to Baltimore during the summers to spend time with his family. We all understand that. I think he probably was viewed with some measure of skepticism. Anthony Brown in my views just didn’t have enough of the name recognition,” he said.

Fauntroy believes that Moore has a compelling story, deeper roots in the state and legitimacy with Black professionals. He also believes that Moore’s opponent plays a big part in his momentum.

“Look at who Wes Moore is running against and compare that to what Brown and Jealous were facing. Jealous was running against an incumbent who was the kind of Republican who has done well in Maryland,” he said. “Wes Moore is running against the best possible candidate for a Democrat to be running against.”

A Goucher College Poll survey from September demonstrates how different this race is. More than 60% of Black respondents said they had a favorable view of outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. That number was flipped for Cox — two-thirds of Black respondents had an unfavorable view of him.

Presidential potential

Barber compares Moore’s gubernatorial run to Obama’s Senate run in the 2004 election.

“People saw something in him that was very unique. They realized that this was just the beginning. People are talking about it. He’s going to be governor. But we know this is just the beginning of his political career that will lead to other positions. Many of us believe that ultimately he will be the second Black president of the United States.”

With the momentum Moore has shown in this campaign, combined with his ability to raise money and gain the support of influential people like Winfrey and Lee, Fauntroy sees a potential presidential run or higher political office in Moore’s future.

“He has a ceiling that is higher than the governorship if that is to what he aspires,” he said.

But Wilder warns against premature forecasting and celebrating.

“I see a path forward to him being governor. His eyes should be focused on that and only that,” he said. “He needs to be thinking about the people of Maryland right now. The rest will take care of itself.”

Pamela Wood contributed to this story.