Candidates for Maryland governor make their final push for votes

Published on: July 18, 2022 at 6:00 am EDT

7/15/22—Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez, left, and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. campaign together at the corner of Wise Ave. and Merritt Blvd. in Dundalk.

After months of candidates knocking on doors, traipsing through farmers markets, answering questions at endless forums, marching in parades and dialing for dollars, it all comes down to this: The final voters will cast their ballots for governor on Tuesday.

The leading candidates for governor vying to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Larry Hogan — and hundreds of down-ballot candidates across the state — slogged through the July heat in their final push to win over voters. A huge field of 10 Democrats and four Republicans is on this summer’s primary ballots.

“No candidate for governor, on either side, can sit here the weekend before Election Day and credibly say, ‘I have this in the bag,’” said Tom Perez, one of the Democratic front-runners, as he waved to motorists in Dundalk during Friday night’s rush hour. “That would be a lie.”

Polling by the Goucher College Poll in partnership with The Baltimore Banner and WYPR in late June showed that the top three Democrats (Perez, Wes Moore and Peter Franchot) and top two Republicans (Kelly Schulz and Dan Cox) were statistically tied in their respective races, with a large segment of voters still undecided.

There’s been no independent polling since then, as candidates have ramped up their voter outreach and blanketed TV and the internet with millions of dollars of campaign ads.

Democrats are hoping to flip the governor’s mansion back to their control, and the national party has designated the state as a high priority to win.

Republicans, meanwhile, will find out whether Hogan’s two terms as a popular Republican in a Democratic-dominated state were a fluke. And the Republican primary results may indicate the future of the party: whether they stick with the pragmatic style of Hogan in Schulz, his chosen successor, or whether they go for Cox, who has styled himself after former President Donald J. Trump, who has endorsed him.

And voters aren’t just deciding the nominees for governor and lieutenant governor. In a rare convergence, the offices of attorney general and comptroller are also open, with no incumbents running. All 188 seats in the General Assembly are up for election this year, along with numerous county executive, County Council and school board seats.

The midsummer primary has left campaigns without a template of how to reach voters who may be thinking more about family vacations and summer camp than casting ballots.

The primary election was supposed to conclude with Election Day voting on June 28, but it was postponed until July 19 as newly drawn district maps were contested in court. That three-week delay has resulted in a marathon primary season for candidates, staff members and volunteers. And even after all the votes are cast by the end of the day on Tuesday, it is likely to take days or possibly weeks to determine the winners as hundreds of thousands of mailed ballots are counted.

Democratic push

The leading Democratic candidates have been publicly expressing confidence, though all but one will end up watching as someone else leads their party toward the November general election.

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At the farmers market in Baltimore’s Waverly neighborhood on Saturday morning, Moore made is way up one row of vendors, dispensing hugs and posing for pictures. The next row over, fellow Democrat John King worked more slowly through the crowd, stopping for detailed conversations with voters. King was shadowed by one staff member in a crab costume and another holding a campaign sign on a stick.

“I’m pointing out that we have a platform that is the most progressive across the candidates in the field, and we’re going to deliver on a more just and prosperous future for the state,” said King, who was a U.S. education secretary under President Barack Obama. “And I have the experience in government to get it done.”

Maryland Democratic candidate for governor John King talks with voters at a farmers market in Baltimore's Waverly neighborhood on Saturday, July 16, 2022.

As market-goers lined up for biscuit sandwiches and lemonade, Moore asked people if they’d voted yet. “It’s an exciting time in the Baltimore region,” he told one voter from Dundalk. He advised another voter who had just moved that they can register and vote on Election Day: “I would love to be your first Maryland vote.”

Moore said he was feeling energized and optimistic in the closing days of the campaign.

“We think voters are really paying attention to what this moment presents — it presents a real opportunity to create change,” he said, in between vendors at the farmers market.

Perez, meanwhile, spent Friday afternoon with two of his allies in the Baltimore region, Del. Luke Clippinger of the city and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., as he continued to try to make inroads in the region. He grabbed a sign and waved to drivers on perhaps the busiest intersection in Dundalk.

The driver of a black sedan honked, and Perez replied with a wave. “Hey! How are ya?”

As cars whizzed by, Perez repeated his campaign line that he’s from the “get stuff done” wing of the Democratic Party and can be counted on to deliver on his promises. Perez previously chaired the Democratic National Committee and was a U.S. labor secretary under Obama.

“We’ve positioned ourselves for success, we are peaking at the right time,” he said.

Maryland Democratic candidate for governor Wes Moore, at right, talks with voters at a farmers market in Baltimore's Waverly neighborhood on Saturday, July 16, 2022. He's joined by his wife, Dawn Flythe Moore.

And while most of the top Democrats were trying to get their faces in front of as many voters as possible, Franchot has had far fewer public appearances in the waning days of the campaign. He took a quick spin through a farmers market in Silver Spring on Saturday, posing for a couple of pictures and buying herb-infused lemonade. He had been out of action for several days at the beginning of the month after testing positive for COVID-19.

“The best poll is the one that’s done on Election Day,” Franchot said, acknowledging that the race appears to be close.

Though polling indicated that Franchot, Moore and Perez are front-runners, candidates like King and Doug Gansler cautioned that they, too, have a path to victory.

Maryland Democratic candidate for governor Peter Franchot, who is also the state comptroller, talks with people at a farmers market in Silver Spring on Saturday, July 16, 2022.

Hustling between homes in Bethesda in a light rain on Saturday, Gansler noted that 35% of Democrats were undecided in the Goucher College Poll, and many who had picked a candidate weren’t firmly set in their choice.

“The only people saying it’s a three-person race are reporters that haven’t done their homework,” he said. Gansler said Goucher’s poll was done when he didn’t have TV ads airing, and he thinks he’s made progress as a candidate focused on crime who has the best shot in November.

Gansler took that message to people’s doors, telling those who answered his knock briefly who he is and his experience as Montgomery County state’s attorney and statewide attorney general. “I’m the only Democrat that can win in the fall,” he said brightly, handing off a flyer.

Maryland Democratic candidate for governor Doug Gansler, left, consults a lists of houses to visit with his special assistant, Jacob Stoken, in Bethesda on Saturday, July 16, 2022.

Republican fight

The Democrats have kept their campaigns mostly cordial, at least in public, while still being fiercely competitive. The same can’t be said about the Republican front-runners, Schulz and Cox.

Cox enlisted the help of Trump for a telephone rally on Wednesday in which the former president blasted both Schulz and Hogan.

“Kelly Schulz is a RINO just like her boss, Larry Hogan, who locked down your state and turned his back on the great people of Maryland,” Trump said, using shorthand meaning “Republican in name only.”

He added: “You don’t want Hogan’s anointed successor. He’s working hard to get her in, and anybody he wants, frankly, I’d be against just on that basis alone.” The former president also spent part of the telephone rally blasting the press and promoting himself.

It wasn’t clear how Cox planned to campaign in the final days leading to Tuesday; he didn’t respond to multiple requests from The Baltimore Banner about his plans.

He has found an unlikely ally. The Democratic Governors Association has poured more than $2.1 million into TV ads and mailers featuring Cox, portraying him as an extremist candidate who would seek to ban abortions and loosen gun regulations in Maryland. In official paperwork, the DGA has registered as opposing Cox, and it says it’s starting to attack Cox early because he is likely to win the primary.

Schulz and her team think differently. They allege that the DGA is propping up Cox’s candidacy because he’ll be easier for a Democratic candidate to beat in the general election. The campaign has called Cox a “conspiracy nut” and a “fringe candidate” — a message Hogan has amplified.

“The Democratic Party shouldn’t be spending millions of dollars trying to promote conspiracy theorists,” Hogan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” recently. He noted that Cox was in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, and called then-Vice President Mike Pence a “traitor” for not halting the certification of the election results that day. (Cox has said he left before a mob overran the U.S. Capitol.)

Maryland isn’t the only state where Democrats have boosted Trumpian candidates in Republican primaries in hopes of setting up more favorable general election matchups. One estimate puts the Democratic Party’s total spending in Republican races at $44 million, including in Pennsylvania’s governor’s race.

Maryland Republican candidate for governor Kelly Schulz poses for pictures in front of cardboard cutouts of most of the Democratic candidates -- plus Republican candidate Dan Cox and President Joe Biden for good measure -- on Lawyers Mall in Annapolis. Schulz held a news conference to propose tax breaks for Marylanders.

Schulz, meanwhile, spent her final days on the campaign trail focused on policy issues, calling news conferences in Baltimore and Annapolis to highlight her plans on violent crime (hire more prosecutors, enlist experts to advise on Baltimore’s violence) and to combat inflation (enact several tax breaks).

In both cases, she contrasted herself with the Democrats running for governor more than against Cox.

“This is not a Republican issue, this is not a Democrat issue. This is a human issue,” Schulz said about crime on the steps of a rowhome-turned-church in West Baltimore.

In Annapolis, the Schulz team put on display a series of black-and-white cardboard cutouts of the Democratic candidates — which have been featured in her TV ads — as well as Cox and President Joe Biden. One Schulz supporter quipped that the cutouts are all people “supported by the DGA.”

Schulz stepped in front of the cutouts to pose for pictures. She thrust two thumbs up, smirked and said: “These guys?”

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