President Joe Biden speaks at a Democratic National Committee rally at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville on Aug. 25, 2022, with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore watching.

President Joe Biden took a quick trip to Montgomery County Thursday night to rally Democrats and build enthusiasm for the party’s candidates in this fall’s general election, including Maryland gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore.

While Republicans have chosen to go backwards with hatred and division, Democrats have the opportunity to move America forward as “a nation of unity, of hope, of optimism,” Biden said to cheers from a crowd packed into a gymnasium at Richard Montgomery High School.

He specifically exhorted those in the audience to vote for Moore for governor and to support the state’s two U.S. senators, Chris Van Hollen, who is up for reelection, and Benjamin L. Cardin.

“Keep them, you need them,” Biden said. “I need them.”

The crowd was generous with its praise for the president, peppering Biden’s speech with applause and cheers for accomplishments, including legislation to protect veterans exposed to burn pits, lowering drug prices for seniors through the Inflation Reduction Act, and promises to ban assault weapons and codify the right to abortion care. The crowd also was generous with its boos each time Biden criticized Republicans.

At one point as the president spoke, a man standing in the audience in front of the podium shouted: “You stole the election!” The crowd booed and started yelling pro-Biden chants to drown out the man as he was escorted from the gym.

Biden said “MAGA Republicans” are dangerous and if they have their way, they’ll ban abortion access across the country. They also could come for marriage equality, Social Security and Medicare benefits and more, the president said. “We can’t let that happen,” he said.

“I respect conservative Republicans. I don’t respect these MAGA Republicans,” Biden said.

Nationally, Democrats are hoping to maintain control of both chambers of Congress to give Biden the best chance of advancing his policy proposals. They’re aiming to capitalize on measures such as the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act and Biden’s student loan forgiveness announcement, and convince Democrats to turn out in the fall election to keep Democrats in power.

In Maryland, Democratic Party leaders believe their statewide candidates are in strong positions to win: gubernatorial nominee Moore, comptroller nominee Brooke Lierman and attorney general nominee Anthony Brown.

Democrats hold a significant voter registration edge in Maryland, where the electorate is 54% Democrats, 24% Republicans and 22% who are registered without a party or with minor parties, according to state voter registration statistics. For a Republican to win statewide office in Maryland, they must win over a significant portion of Democratic and independent voters.

Moore is facing Republican Dan Cox, a one-term state delegate who has promoted 2020 election conspiracy theories, used language of the QAnon conspiracy movement on social media and embraced far-right policy positions.

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore speaks at a Democratic National Committee rally at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville on Aug. 25, 2022. President Joe Biden also spoke at the rally.

Moore was the second-to-last speaker, running through his background and campaign promises, as well as drumming up excitement for the president’s remarks.

He also focused on Cox, urging the crowd not to take the Republican nominee lightly.

“You know, people have said to me since our primary win, ‘Isn’t it great that you have to go up against Dan Cox?’ My answer is clear and consistent: Do not underestimate what we’re up against,” Moore said.

He continued: “It is not ‘great’ that in November we are facing an election denier, an insurrectionist who called for Mike Pence to be hung for certifying a free and fair election.”

Cox has acknowledged that he was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, but left before a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building. He has said he did not organize buses to a Trump rally that day, but he had advertised himself as a “co-host” of the buses on social media. As the violence unfolded in Washington, Cox posted on Twitter: “Pence is a traitor.”

“This is a time for all Marylanders to rally around a future based not in lies and conspiracy theories, but one based on optimism, concrete proposals and collective progress,” Moore said.

Moore went further and said that Cox is “a threat to those who value a free and fair democracy.”

At one point during Moore’s speech, the crowd broke into raucous cheers of “We want Moore! We want Moore!”

Yvette Lewis, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, speaks at a rally at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville on Aug. 25, 2022.

Yvette Lewis, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, who spoke earlier in the program, said even the state’s Republican governor calls Cox a “QAnon whack job.”

“The fight for the soul of our nation has come to Maryland,” she said.

As the standing-room-only crowd waited for Moore and Biden, a series of speakers — many Maryland elected officials — amped them up by rattling off Democratic victories as well as priorities that they’ll pursue if they win in November, from protecting the right to abortion care to fighting climate change.

Before the rally, Biden went to a home in Bethesda for a private Democratic National Committee fundraiser that was expected to raise about $1 million for the party’s election efforts.

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore welcomes President Joe Biden to the state at a rally at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville on Aug. 25, 2022.

Republicans took notice of the president’s visit and attempted to draw attention to their own candidates in Maryland.

Ahead of the Biden rally, the Republican National Committee hosted a conference call for reporters with Neil Parrott, a state delegate hoping to unseat the Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. David Trone. Trone’s district stretches from Montgomery County through Western Maryland and was made somewhat more favorable to Republicans when the lines were redrawn after the last U.S. Census.

Trone was not on the speaking program for Thursday night’s rally with the president, but sent a short video that was played to the crowd. Even though Trone wasn’t at the rally, Parrott told reporters: “He can’t run away from his 100% voting record where he supports Joe Biden and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi’s policies.”

And Cox, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, considered holding a press conference in Rockville to counter the Biden rally, but ultimately ended up canceling.

Instead, he issued a statement criticizing Moore for supporting “the failed policies of the Biden Administration.”

Cox claimed in his statement that Moore was avoiding debating him, even though Moore has publicly said he’s looking forward to a debate with Cox.

“The people of Maryland want their freedom back. We want our state back,” Cox said in the statement. “I will work hard and will implement the constitutional and pro-freedom policies that Marylanders want and deserve.”

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