Dan Cox does not have a lot going in his favor as he wages an uphill battle to become Maryland’s next governor: He has little money, lags in the polls and has tied himself to former President Donald J. Trump, who remains extremely unpopular in the state.
But the Republican candidate believes he can win.
“This election is about the people: To make sure that they have a voice in their government, instead of the international corporate lobbyists and special interests that are supporting my opponent,” Cox told reporters in Annapolis recently.
“I pledge that every single day as your governor, you are going to have your voice at the table. You’re going to be heard you’re going to be included in a transparent and open government,” he said.
The people, however, appear to be leaning away from Cox and toward his Democratic opponent, Wes Moore. A September poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland had Moore with a 60%-28% advantage over Cox. Two weeks earlier, a Goucher College Poll in partnership with The Baltimore Banner and WYPR had Moore up, 53%-31%.
Cox has complained that the surveys were “push polls,” designed to generate a specific outcome. But at the same time, he’s also found what he sees as a path to victory within the polls: Among voters who said the economy was their top priority, Cox held a slim lead at 51%.
It’s not entirely clear what Cox’s path to victory is. His campaign has been disorganized, not responding to reporters’ questions, not publicizing the candidate’s events and pulling out from scheduled appearances.
Cox does not have much money in the bank — he had less than $300,000 as of the last public report in late August — making it difficult for him to match Moore on TV, radio and internet ads.
Cox has yet to air any ads on Baltimore’s four broadcast TV stations, while Moore is spending more than $100,000 a week putting ads on those stations, according to FCC records. Cox launched a few thousand dollars’ worth of ads on Facebook and Instagram in late October, according to records posted by parent company Meta.
“The issue is just simply making sure that we get our message out and that people understand that we stand for putting money back in your pockets. And we’re doing that, we’re excited,” Cox told reporters in Annapolis. “The ground game is there. And so the game is on and we’re going to win.”
Polling says Marylanders are concerned about economic issues, but Cox hasn’t homed in on it as a central message of his campaign. He has promised tax cuts, but also criticizes now-abandoned pandemic restrictions from two years ago, blasts the “experimental” coronavirus vaccines and pledges to “back the blue” and crack down on crime.
Cox also spent a significant amount of time this fall waging an unsuccessful legal battle over how mail ballots are counted and called a press conference to call on public schools to stop teaching Moore’s best-selling book, “The Other Wes Moore.”
And Cox rode to the Republican nomination on the strength of his loyalty to — and endorsement by — Trump. The former president placed phone calls twice to promote Cox’s candidacy during the primary, first calling into a rally and later speaking on a telephone call with supporters. Trump lost Maryland 2-to-1 in the 2020 presidential election.
Since winning the primary, Cox has sent mixed messages about Trump. Cox scrubbed photos and references to the former president from his website. Cox also quit Gab, a social networking site known for drawing white nationalists.
But Cox also booked a fundraiser at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago property, advertising that guests could get a picture with the former president for generating $25,000 in campaign donations. The campaign has not answered questions about how many people attended or how much money was raised.
The Baltimore Banner asked the Cox campaign repeatedly for an interview to learn more about how he’s working to win over Maryland voters. The campaign declined the request.
Cox did speak with The Baltimore Banner in the spring, ahead of the Republican primary election. He painted a dark picture of a state rife with problems: unrelenting crime, runaway government spending, “indoctrination” of students in public schools, too many people ending their pregnancies and more.
Cox’s policy proposals, as outlined on his website and social media posts, include forcing Baltimore City’s government into receivership, though he has not explained how that would work. He has said he would “take back” the Inner Harbor.
He also advocates a return to “broken window” policing, in which police officers focus on minor crimes, like graffiti and public urination, in hopes of deterring more serious crime and violence. Critics say such policing sticks people with criminal records, making it more difficult for them to find jobs and housing.
Cox also describes himself as a pro-life politician, having sponsored numerous bills in the Maryland General Assembly that would have curtailed funding or access to abortion care. In the only debate in the governor’s race, Cox acknowledged that if elected governor, he would have little power to change abortion law, given that Democrats who favor access to abortion hold an overwhelming number of seats in the General Assembly.
Since his primary victory, Cox has been taking steps to compare himself favorably with the popular outgoing governor, Larry Hogan. In the debate, Cox said he “stood with Gov. Hogan to make sure our police are protected” and gave Hogan a grade of “A” — except for their disagreements over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cox sued and later attempted to impeach Hogan over the pandemic restrictions; neither effort was successful.
Hogan, for his part, has repeatedly dismissed Cox as a “QAnon whack job” who is unfit to serve as governor.
Cox has won few endorsements from major organizations or even politicians in his own party. Independent polling indicates Cox is not picking up the support that he needs to win from Democrats and independents, who combine to make up 74% of the state’s registered voters.
But Del. Ric Metzgar, an early supporter of Cox’s campaign, sees similarities between Cox and Hogan.
“I saw in Dan Cox the same enthusiasm, compassion, energy that I saw in Gov. Hogan in the early days,” said Metzgar, a Republican from eastern Baltimore County.
“He has got this state in his heart, the continuation of Gov. Hogan’s business plans, his same character with tax credits, the same energy to bring businesses back to Maryland,” Metzgar said.
Few Republican politicians are openly supporting Cox because they fear retribution from Hogan, whose “anointed one”, Kelly Schulz, was defeated by Cox in the primary, Metzgar said.
Metzgar’s advice for Cox to win? Court church-going voters and tread carefully with regards to Trump. “Love Trump, but keep him far away.”
Cox was raised in Frederick County and attended Mount St. Mary’s College before working for about a decade at what is now Wellspring Christian Family Schools, which provides curriculum and support to families that homeschool their children. Cox eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in government from University of Maryland, University College in 2002 and a law degree in 2006 from Regent University, a Christian university in Virginia founded by evangelist Pat Robertson.
Law school classmate Matthew Wilson, now a lawyer in Mississippi, said Cox was a diligent student, always up-to-date on his reading and filing his briefs. The two stayed in touch and the Cox campaign hired Wilson for the ultimately unsuccessful legal fight this fall over the schedule of counting mail ballots in Maryland.
Wilson said that while some politicians operate in the area of preferences, ceding ground and compromising to curry favor with voters or donors, Cox is more motivated by deeply held convictions.
“Although he is willing to negotiate on areas where he has a preference, he has so many convictions. He is driven by those principles and not for his own self-aggrandizement,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that he and Cox share a belief that America is on a shaky foundation that needs strengthening.
“What we see, and what Dan sees, is a problem with a lot of the foundations being attacked,” Wilson said. “The foundations for liberty, the foundations for righteousness and truth and justice. These things are being redefined, and because they are being redefined, it places the structure of our government and our society in peril. He’s wanting to shore up the foundations.”
After law school, Cox lived on the Eastern Shore, where from 2007 to 2009 he served as president of the town commission in the community of Secretary in Dorchester County, where his most memorable act may have been adding the words “For God and Freedom” to the town welcome sign.
By 2016, Cox was back in Western Maryland, running for Congress unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat who had a margin of victory of 60% to 34%.
Along the way, Cox has worked as a real estate agent and later as an attorney in private practice. He calls himself a “constitutional lawyer.” Some of his cases have had a constitutional angle — including representing voters who wished to vote without a required mask in Harford County in 2020 — but he also has practiced criminal defense and handled civil matters including divorces and contract disputes, according to online court records.
Cox fared better in 2018, when he was the top vote-getter of the three Republicans who won seats representing a district that included much of rural Frederick County as well as a bit of Carroll County.
Cox initially did not draw much attention in Annapolis, though he passed two bills his first year: One creating a task force to study criminal penalties and another requiring courthouses to post a sign advertising a human trafficking hotline.
He’s sponsored dozens of bills each year, including measures to restrict abortion, allow for more parental oversight of public schools and require each school to have at least two employees armed with handguns.
Things changed in 2020, when the coronavirus arrived in Maryland and Cox made a name for himself fighting against pandemic restrictions, including mask requirements and the short-lived stay-at-home order. He rallied like-minded Marylanders and filed a federal lawsuit that was unsuccessful in overturning the restrictions. He also represented two men in Harford County who tried to vote without a mask, which was required at the time.
Later, Cox moved on to criticizing coronavirus vaccines and employers that required them, with “jabs for jobs” as his catchphrase. He’s declined to say whether he’s been vaccinated himself.
Cox has sponsored several unsuccessful bills that would have curtailed a governor’s health emergency powers, prohibited job-related vaccine requirements and made it easier for doctors to prescribe ivermectin for COVID-19. (Federal health officials have not authorized ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment.)
By early 2022, Cox filed a resolution to impeach Hogan, but failed to gain a single co-sponsor and saw his effort quickly defeated in a key committee on a unanimous bipartisan vote.
Cox has said that it was the pandemic that prompted him to run for governor, which he announced in a text message to supporters on Independence Day in 2021. He’s said that people who appreciated his fights against pandemic measures encouraged him to run for governor.
“After a lot of soul searching and consideration, my wife and I thought: You know, someone has to lead on this issue because it’s beyond party right now,” Cox told The Baltimore Banner in June. He said the key issues were “these freedom issues, these issues of bodily autonomy, protecting our right to healthcare privacy, making sure that we have our kids being educated and not indoctrinated.”
Cox sounded something of a populist message when he spoke to The Baltimore Banner in June.
“People appreciate somebody standing up against the establishment saying: ‘Hey, we can do better,’” he said.