In the tightly contested Democratic primary for governor, front-runners Wes Moore and Tom Perez shared their pitches with Baltimore radio listeners on Friday, while Peter Franchot opted not to participate in the joint appearance.
Moore, a bestselling author and former nonprofit executive; Perez, former head of the Democratic National Committee; and Franchot, the longtime state comptroller; are statistically tied atop the Democratic field of candidates, according to a poll conducted by the Goucher College Poll in partnership with The Baltimore Banner and WYPR.
More than one-third of voters who were polled remained undecided, and with no televised debates on the schedule, the joint appearance on WYPR may be the last — or one of the last — opportunities for a large audience to see the top candidates go head-to-head.
Here are some takeaways.
Franchot was a no-show
WYPR host Tom Hall initially tried to schedule the top three candidates earlier in the week, but Franchot declined, citing a scheduling conflict.
Hall tried again and invited the three candidates to appear on Friday’s show, and Perez and Moore agreed. Franchot again declined, this time saying it wasn’t fair not to invite all of the Democratic candidates. There are 10 candidates on the ballot, though one of them, Rushern L. Baker III, has suspended his campaign.
“We believe public forums should be open to all candidates in the Democratic primary,” the Franchot campaign said in a statement. “Every candidate has worked tirelessly over the last year and deserves a fair shot to speak with voters.”
The statement also said: “We will not participate in forums that do not give all of the candidates an opportunity to participate on equal ground.”
Franchot did, however, participate in a televised debate last month that excluded the lowest-polling candidates in the field, Jerome Segal and Ralph Jaffe.
As Moore and Perez participated in the show and promoted it on their social media, the Franchot campaign was touting that it had reached a contract agreement with campaign workers who unionized.
Perez noted Franchot’s absence and joked that his team will run a “Where’s Waldo?”-type effort to find him. “Hopefully he’ll turn up,” he said.
Moore didn’t mention Franchot during the show, but the campaign put out a statement afterward alleging that Franchot didn’t want to answer tough questions about his lack of support for historically Black colleges and campaign contributions he’s received. “Peter Franchot’s stagnant campaign has finally realized what the vast majority of Democratic voters have known all year — his record is indefensible,” the statement said.
Agreement from Moore, Perez
Over the course of an hour, the two candidates shared their often-similar views on issues ranging from inflation to violence and transportation. Their policy positions generally fall within mainstream Democratic ideology.
Perez noted that he agreed with Moore’s points — that the governor should partner with local leaders on crime issues and do a better job staffing and funding the state Department of Parole and Probation.
Other areas of agreement: suspending the 7-cent increase in the state gas tax that went into effect Friday; supporting putting protection for reproductive rights in the state constitution; opposing the plan to widen certain highways in the Washington, D.C. suburbs with toll lanes; promising to restart the proposed east-west rail line in Baltimore known as the Red Line; and taking a multi-pronged approach to preventing crime in Baltimore.
Making their cases based on experience
Both candidates sold themselves on their experience, though they have taken different career paths before becoming candidates for governor.
Perez’s background includes serving on the Montgomery County Council, as state labor secretary, and federal labor secretary. He also was a top official at the U.S. Department of Justice for civil rights issues, and spent the last election cycle running the Democratic National Committee.
The best way to judge what someone will do in the future, Perez said, is to look at what they’ve done in the past.
“I’m running for governor to make sure that everybody in this state has a fair shake,” he said. “That’s what my entire life is about.”
Moore, who has been an investment banker, soldier, author, entrepreneur and nonprofit executive, said in his career he’s worked to solve problems that government has failed to fix.
“I am battle-tested and I have a history of working in communities and with communities,” Moore said.
Name-dropping from the candidates
Booth Moore and Perez weren’t shy about making mention of their political allies who have endorsed them or who are working with them.
When discussing climate change, Moore noted that he recently appeared with the Maryland League of Conservation Voters to denounce a Supreme Court ruling that limits the federal government’s ability to regulate power plant emissions.
Moore also name-dropped House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson — both of whom endorsed him — when discussing how he’d work with state lawmakers.
Perez made mention of Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., who had announced his endorsement shortly before the radio show, and Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner, who endorsed Perez earlier in the week.
It’s not clear yet if or when the top candidates for governor in either the Democratic or Republican parties will appear together in a debate or forum. As of now, there are no further TV or radio debates scheduled.
Voting has already started for the nearly 470,000 voters who requested mail-in ballots, which can be returned by mail or to ballot drop boxes that are placed around the state. Early voting runs from Thursday through July 14, followed by traditional Election Day voting on July 19.