Dan Cox, a conservative state delegate endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump who promoted election conspiracy theories, is the winner of Maryland’s Republican primary for governor, while the result in the Democratic primary will be decided by hundreds of thousands of yet-to-be counted mail ballots.
The Associated Press called the race for Cox while he led his key Republican rival, former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, with 56% of the vote to 40% of the vote, as early voting and election day votes were tallied. Tens of thousands of mail-in ballots were still to be counted and Schulz did not concede the race, but it was clear she was unlikely to make up enough ground.
Cox’s supporters cheered and clapped as he took the podium at the Emmitsburg Ambulance Company hall Tuesday night to declare victory.
“We’re all Marylanders for freedom. Every background, all parties, we want to have our government back,” Cox said. “We want to have our state back. We want to make sure that we can stay here and raise a family and make sure our children are safe.”
Cox thanked Trump, who participated in a brief telephone rally for Cox last week, as the crowd began chanting: “USA! USA!”
Schulz had told her supporters that “it’s not over by a long shot” at about 10:30 p.m., half an hour before the AP called the race for Cox. After the AP call was posted, Schulz advisor Doug Mayer said the Republican Party would be doomed to lose in the general election with Cox as the nominee.
“The Maryland Republican Party got together and committed ritualized mass suicide,” Mayer said. “The only thing missing was Jim Jones and a glass of Kool-Aid. I hope it was a good party.”
It wasn’t immediately clear who Cox will face in the general election. As votes trickled in on the Democratic side, author and former nonprofit executive Wes Moore had nearly 37% of the vote shortly after 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. He was trailed by Tom Perez, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, at more than 27% and Comptroller Peter Franchot at about 20%.
All the votes were cast by Tuesday night, but counting them all will take into next week and it may be days or weeks before it’s apparent who the Democratic nominee will be.
On the Democratic side, 116,358 voters participated in early voting and 168,873 had returned ballots by mail or drop box as of Tuesday morning. At least 203,000 mailed ballots hadn’t yet been submitted.
The candidates are all hoping to succeed Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who may have his eye on the White House in 2024. He’s finishing his second term and can’t run for a third due to term limits.
Democrats are hoping to flip control of the governor’s mansion after eight years of Hogan, while Republicans want to build on Hogan’s success. A Republican governor can serve as a check on the Democrat-dominated General Assembly, Republicans have argued.
At Baltimore’s R. House food hall, Moore was introduced as “the next governor of the state of Maryland,” but he said it was too soon to say what the outcome of the election would be.
“There won’t be any announcements made tonight ... We believe in counting every vote,” Moore told supporters.
Perez’s supporters, meanwhile, danced to music and awaited results at a Bethesda restaurant.
“There’s a lot of votes left to be counted … We don’t rest until every eligible vote gets cast and counted,” Perez told supporters shortly before 11 p.m. At that point, he said 258,000 votes had been counted out of an estimated 600,000 that had been cast.
Franchot spoke before a standing room only crowd at his headquarters in Bowie, encouraging patience and positivity as results began to roll in.
“After every vote is counted, we are optimistic that I will be the next Democratic nominee for the governor of Maryland,” Franchot said to raucous applause.
Franchot reminded his supporters that hundreds of thousands of election day votes and mail-in votes from Democrats still hadn’t been reported. “We are very, very early in the process,” he said.
Cox and Schulz represent starkly different perspectives within the Republican Party.
Cox courted right-wing supporters, promoted election conspiracy theories and boasted an endorsement from Trump. On Tuesday, Cox posted a video to Facebook alleging that some of his supporters were wrongfully directed to cast provisional ballots and incorrectly stating that provisional ballots are only counted in close races.
Cox also was a leading voice against public health measures early in the coronavirus pandemic, frequently railing against masks and closures and launching an unsuccessful lawsuit to block restrictions. He also made a failed attempt to impeach Hogan, an effort that drew not a single supporter among his fellow Republican lawmakers in Annapolis.
He often campaigned as if the strict measures were still in place, even though businesses have been operating normally and masks haven’t been required in the state for many months.
Cox continued that theme as he spoke to reporters following his victory speech: “Immediately on Day One, we’re going to rescind all of the lockdown orders, all of the mandates that are still in place.”
Schulz offered a more traditional Republican message that promised to lower taxes, fight crime and boost businesses.
Schulz hoped to repeat Hogan’s success of winning the governor’s mansion for the Republican Party in a Democrat-dominated state by shying away from right-wing wedge issues and appearing moderate enough to eventually sway Democratic and independent voters in the general election.
Schulz promoted herself as much more electable in the general election than Cox, and alleged that’s why the Democratic Governors Association spent millions on ads featuring Cox in the final weeks of the campaign. The DGA said the ads were meant to blast Cox, but Schulz and others said the Democrats were trying to prop up Cox’s candidacy because he’ll be easier to beat in the fall.
Before voting began, Cox and Schulz were statistically tied with nearly half of those polled undecided, according to polling from the Goucher College Poll in partnership with The Baltimore Banner and WYPR.
In Baltimore, Nancy VanMeter, 71, voted for Cox because she believes he’ll address issues such as the safety of squeegee workers. VanMeter said she found Cox to be energetic, self-assured and “not beholden to a previous governor.”
“I don’t like the way our governor talked about a person in his own party when President Trump was president and just didn’t think it was too classy to slam somebody in your own party,” VanMeter said.
David Lutz, 56, headed in to vote for Cox at Mays Chapel Elementary School in Timonium Tuesday night. “I don’t have one hot-button issue,” he said, but said Cox lines up with his beliefs “more generally, when you look at the issues overall.”
Margaret Craig, 76, changed her registration from Democrat to Republican specifically to vote against Cox at Cockeysville Middle School on Tuesday afternoon.
Asked what issues she was most concerned about, Craig responded: “Being against Trump.” She knew Cox was aligned with the ex-president. As for the other races on the Republican ballot, Craig said she picked “the least bad.”
Dennis Keihm, 69, was convinced to vote for Schulz based on Hogan’s endorsement. The Catonsville resident is a self-proclaimed “Hogan fan” and said he liked the outgoing governor’s ability to work across the aisle.
“Most of this is becoming so ideological and one of the things that I did like about Hogan was that he was a Republican in a completely Democratic state and he stayed popular because he pretty much stayed true to himself,” Keihm said.
The Democratic ballot featured 10 names, but three candidates appeared to have an advantage heading into voting, based on independent polling: Franchot, Moore and Perez. Lagging behind in preelection polling were former State Attorney General Doug Gansler and former U.S. Education Secretary John King.
Also on the Democratic ballot were former nonprofit executive and policy expert Jon Baron, former Obama administration appointee Ashwani Jain, socialist Jerome Segal, perennial candidate Ralph Jaffe and former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who suspended his campaign in June.
King was the first of the Democrats to publicly concede he would not win.
“While we do not yet know who will be the Democratic nominee, sadly we know at this point it will not be us,” King told supporters who gathered at an Irish pub in Silver Spring.
Unlike the Republican candidates, the leading Democrats largely agreed on many goals and policy issues, and the differences between them were more nuanced. In the waning days of the campaign, they criss-crossed populous Central Maryland looking for votes.
Former teacher Kelly Maggio, 62, knew the state teachers union had endorsed Moore and cast her ballot for him in Catonsville.
Maggio said she was motivated to vote out of concern about continued Republican control over the state in light of recent events in Washington, D.C.
“I’m very shocked by the Supreme Court decision on abortion issues, and think that it’s a woman’s right, and also very shocked following the Trump Jan. 6 hearings,” Maggio said. “I feel there was a lot of criminal behavior, and I want to come out as a strong Democrat to support what I think are ideas that are not just good for us, but good for our country.”
“The Maryland Republican Party got together and committed ritualized mass suicide. The only thing missing was Jim Jones and a glass of Kool-Aid. I hope it was a good party.”
Doug Mayer, Kelly Schulz's campaign advisor
Trish and Joe Mayhugh, a couple who voted in Towson, cast their votes for governor for Moore, believing he’s best suited to address health care issues.
“We’ve made up our minds on the candidates a long time ago, but still have been following these races and candidates very closely,” said Trish, 67.
Carl Swanson, 74, spent Monday night sorting through a pile of candidate flyers that had built up over the long campaign season. One of those flyers helped him make a choice for governor.
The flyer, sent by a political action committee supporting Perez, slammed Franchot for having appeared publicly with Cox. Swanson took the message opposite from what was intended.
“I took that as more of a compliment than as a reason not to vote for Peter Franchot,” Swanson said after voting at Catonsville Middle School. “I think when he was comptroller, he worked pretty well with Gov. Hogan even though they were different parties. To me, that’s a very positive thing. I think our country is so divided right now.”
Lynn Elliot, 52, was compelled to cast her vote at Catonsville High School Tuesday afternoon mostly out of concern for protecting women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights.
Elliot, a Democrat, said that she supported Hogan throughout his terms but was much less supportive of the Republican candidates in this election.
”I’m not happy with the Republican candidates at all and they scare the hell out of me, so I want to make sure that we have a very strong governor candidate from our party who will appeal to everyone — or most everyone,” said Elliot. So she cast her vote for Perez, who she believes would have the widest appeal.
”I liked his track record, I liked his history, the work that he’s done, he’s been in politics for a long time — he seems like a policy kind of guy, someone who might get things done rather than getting mixed up in the whole fray of things,” said Elliot.
Baltimore Banner reporters Penelope Blackwell, Taji Burris, Clara Longo de Freitas, Jonathan Meltzer, Cadence Quaranta and Aaron Wright contributed to this report.
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