Surrounded by supporters in the campaign’s Baltimore field office, author and former nonprofit executive Wes Moore declared victory Saturday afternoon in Maryland’s Democratic primary race for governor.
NBC, CBS and CNN declared at various points Friday that Moore was the winner. The Associated Press joined them just before 11 p.m. Friday, calling the race in Moore’s favor.
Moore said he would build a broad coalition backed by fellow Democratic challengers as well as fan out the campaign into areas of the state where more Republicans live.
“Work, wages and wealth: That’s not a Democratic issue,” he said, also citing public safety, environmental policy and human rights as central to the campaign. “These are issues that when we’re talking about them, we’re talking about them with a statewide lens.”
The Moore campaign accepted the win shortly after second-place finisher Tom Perez conceded the race. Perez, a former cabinet official for President Barack Obama, said he would continue to monitor ballot counting but acknowledged the statistical improbability of catching Moore’s lead.
He urged supporters to rally behind Moore: “Maryland has a once in a generation opportunity to address the most pressing challenges facing us,” Perez said in a statement. “From combating climate change, to empowering our students and educators, to protecting our democracy from an all-out assault, and beyond.”
Moore will face Republican nominee Dan Cox in November’s general election. Cox is a one-term state lawmaker who was endorsed by President Donald J. Trump. A proponent of 2020 election conspiracy theories who called then-Vice President Mike Pence a “traitor” for not blocking the certification of those election results, Cox handily defeated Kelly Schulz, an ally of Hogan.
Shortly after the Associated Press called the Democratic primary race for Moore, Cox sent an email to supporters, asking for “immediate help to to raise a war chest to stand up for you and win.” As of the latest campaign finance reports, Cox had about $152,000 in cash on hand.
He blasted Moore — who last reported having about $670,000 in cash on hand — for mandating proof of COVID-19 vaccinations at a campaign event last month, calling them “experimental jabs” that counter Americans’ right to “freedom and medical privacy.”
“He is so out of touch with Marylanders that not only was his event held in Washington D.C. but the list of event hosts include Hollywood and Medical elites,” Cox wrote. “My campaign is about restoring our freedom for your own health choices, and welcoming and including everyone regardless of one’s health status. Clearly, that is not the view of how my opponent would govern.”
Moore shot back Saturday, saying a “somberness” cut through the day’s celebratory nature with the Maryland Republican voters’ clear backing of a candidate defined by “cynical policies of conspiracy theories and fear.”
Cox, he said, pledged his allegiance to Trump’s “dangerous and divisive ‘MAGA’ movement.”
“Dan Cox represents the most extreme fringe of American politics and, simply put, he is so far outside of the mainstream I believe he would be dangerous in the governor’s office,” Moore said. “Oftentimes, he was not taken seriously in the past. I want to be very clear: that will not be an issue in this campaign.”
He said he would welcome the opportunity to debate Cox.
There also will be some unaffiliated and third-party candidates on the general election ballot, including Libertarian David Lashar and Nancy Wallace of the Green Party.
Moore held a lead over Perez, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, after in-person votes — both from early voting and Election Day — were tallied on Tuesday. Perez cut into Moore’s margin as the counting of mailed ballots continued across the state. But as the number of uncounted ballots diminished, it appeared less likely that Perez could close the gap.
As of Saturday evening, Moore had about 27,000 more votes than Perez, according to unofficial tallies posted by the Maryland State Board of Elections. Counting of mailed ballots and provisional ballots will continue into next week, regardless of any declarations by candidates or the news media about the likely outcomes.
State Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is sitting in third, acknowledged on Friday that he would not win the primary. He named Moore as the winner and encouraged Maryland Democrats to unite behind him.
“With voting rights, Roe v. Wade, health care, common sense gun control, climate change, and economic stability being the key issues of this moment, it is vital that Marylanders come together to elect a Democrat to be the next governor,” Franchot said in a statement.
Franchot’s defeat marks the end of a long career in Maryland politics, dating back to 1986, when he won a seat in the House of Delegates representing a portion of Montgomery County. He advanced to the position of comptroller in 2006, knocking off the legendary incumbent, William Donald Schaefer, who was a former governor and mayor of Baltimore.
Franchot was the first Democrat to launch a gubernatorial campaign this cycle and began with solid name recognition and significant money in the bank. Through much of the campaign season, he led in polls, including those conducted by rival campaigns. But a large portion of Democratic voters remained undecided and they appeared to opt for Moore and Perez. Franchot had about 21% of the vote as of early Friday afternoon, according to unofficial returns.
Franchot will continue to serve as state comptroller through the end of his term in January, working as the state’s chief tax collector and sitting on the powerful state Board of Public Works, which oversees state contracts. Franchot’s next public appearance is scheduled to be a Board of Public Works meeting on Wednesday.
“As I complete my tenure as comptroller, I am committed to ensuring that Maryland is positioned to navigate the economic challenges ahead so that we can continue to grow and prosper for generations to come.”
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is finishing his second term and often was allied with Franchot, praised the comptroller on social media: “I want to thank Peter Franchot for his decades of dedicated service to the state, and convey my best wishes to him and his family.”
Moore declined to say whether he has spoken to Hogan, who said he wouldn’t support Cox in November: “Any private conversations I want to keep private,” Moore said.
Seven other candidates on the Democratic ballot finished much further back and most had conceded defeat already. Among them was former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who also encouraged supporters to unite behind their ticket.
“We must do everything we can to stop Dan Cox this November,” he said.
Baltimore Banner reporter Hallie Miller contributed to this article.