Wes Moore stepped to a small podium, a mural of a bright blue wave crashing into the sea on the wall behind him. The crowd gathered before him — Democratic Party volunteers and elected officials — showered Moore with applause and cheers for half a minute before he interrupted them.
“Man!” Moore said at the event last month, grinning and waiting for the applause to die down. “God bless y’all! God bless y’all!”
The crowd may have already been convinced that Moore would be the next governor. But Moore pressed to make sure they weren’t taking anything for granted. After all, these volunteers are the ones responsible for voter outreach around the state to help Moore win.
“Every single morning, wake up knowing that the door you’re going to knock on could be the door that could turn this election. That the text message you send could be the text that could turn the election,” Moore said. “That the yard sign that you’re going to grab to not just put in your yard — but put in your neighbor’s yard, even if he didn’t ask for it! — that could be the message that could turn this election.”
By the time Moore finished speaking, he’d whipped up the partisan crowd again.
“This is the time that Maryland will compete, Maryland will build, Maryland will win,” Moore said, closing with his campaign catchphrase: “Leave no one behind.”
Maryland Democrats are counting on Moore, a charismatic, 44-year-old first-time candidate, to lead their party back into power after eight years under the leadership of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. They’re hoping that the symbolic blue wave on the wall at their Prince George’s County headquarters becomes a blue wave at the ballot box this fall.
And the odds are in their favor: Two independent polls conducted in September showed that Moore had a staggering lead over Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, whose campaign is struggling to gain traction. The first showed a 22% lead and the second showed a 32% lead for Moore.
Moore is better funded, better organized and enjoys more positive favorability ratings than Cox, an ally of former President Donald Trump who has struggled to gain traction in the Democrat-dominated state. Moore has been a regular presence on local airwaves, with biographical commercials highlighting his background and military service.
While Moore has the clear advantage in this election, his candidacy is not without challenges. He’s a first-time political candidate with no political experience, save for a one-year fellowship at the U.S. Department of State in his 20s.
He also must overcome recent political history in Maryland, where three of the last five gubernatorial elections have been won by Republicans. And this is all against a backdrop of turbulent midterm elections where — with potent issues and many voters distrustful of parties and politicians — support has swung between Democrats and Republicans.
On the campaign trail, Moore is often warmly received as he dispenses backslaps and bear hugs to admirers.
He’s lined up support across the Democratic spectrum and has famous names like Oprah Winfrey, 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton, former President Barack Obama and current President Joe Biden in his corner.
Moore has picked up endorsements from unions, environmental groups and the state’s Fraternal Order of Police — which not only provide manpower for the get-out-the-vote efforts, but also signal that the candidate has a broad base of support from a variety of interests — not just left-wing Democrats.
But Moore constantly reminds those listening that victory is not guaranteed. He regularly says that he’s running as if he’s “10 points behind.” He’s kept a busy schedule of private gatherings and public events, courting voters and posing for selfies at festivals and football games.
Moore has also been a relentless fundraiser, attending multiple events each week, sometimes multiple events in a day. For his 44th birthday, he held a birthday-themed fundraiser at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, followed by a birthday fish fry on the lower Eastern Shore the next day. Hillary Clinton is headlining an online fundraiser for Moore.
Moore has obliterated his main opponent when it comes to fundraising. As of late August, the Moore campaign had posted $10.5 million in donations from more than 25,000 donors over the course of the campaign. The campaign had more than $1.3 million in the bank at that point, compared to less than $300,000 in Cox’s accounts.
Larry Gibson has been helping Baltimore Democrats get elected since long before Moore was born. He was mostly out of the campaign game, but got lured into Moore’s camp this year, impressed by the candidate’s pitch.
“He’s extremely bright, he is energetic,” said Gibson, a lawyer and law professor. “He has ideas about how to move our state forward.”
And best of all, according to Gibson, is that Moore cares about Baltimore City.
“He’s absolutely committed to being very much a positive help to Baltimore and understands the gem that Baltimore is, and the central role in the health of the entire state,” said Gibson, who holds the title of senior advisor to the campaign.
Ben Jealous, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2018, thought about running again in 2022. But when he found out his longtime friend Moore was interested, too, Jealous stepped back and helped guide Moore to people who could help his campaign.
The two men first met more than 20 years ago, when Moore joined a very small club of Black men with Baltimore ties who had been chosen as Rhodes Scholars. Jealous reached out to Moore, who is a few years younger, and made a connection. He immediately recognized Moore’s potential.
“I had seen in Wes, when we were in our 20s, the potential for somebody who could be a great unifying figure in both the state and in the country,” said Jealous, who went on to head the national NAACP and now leads People For the American Way, a progressive advocacy group.
Jealous said he believes Moore can bridge divisions and get “our eye back on the prize” of building a more prosperous state with opportunities for future generations. Moore’s experience in the corporate world, the military and the nonprofit sector make him a well-rounded leader who can appreciate people from different backgrounds, Jealous said.
“My great hope for Wes is in these fraught and fractured times, in this fractured state and fractured country, he is positioned better than most to help heal that divide,” Jealous said.
On a rainy night in Baltimore this fall, Moore made his pitch to several dozen voters, mostly Black, at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History & Culture.
“I humbly ask you for your vote. I humbly ask you for your support. I humbly ask you to go get your neighbors and go get your family to come vote as well,” Moore said. “Because come Nov. 8, we have a chance to do something that generations from now will talk about. This is our moment.”
The history Moore is talking about is that, if elected, he’d become Maryland’s first Black governor — in a nation that has only seen four Black governors in its history. Moore’s running mate for lieutenant governor, Aruna Miller, who immigrated from India as a child, would break barriers as well.
Moore said he doesn’t want to be elected just because of his race. He wants to be elected because he believes he’s the best candidate.
“I’m not in this race because I’m trying to make history. That wasn’t a goal and a motivation,” Moore said in an interview with The Baltimore Banner. “I’m in the race because I want to make child poverty history. I’m in the race because I want to make the wealth gap history — and those are the things that continue to drive me.”
On the campaign trail, Moore often tells an abbreviated version of his personal story, which is laid out in detail in his bestselling memoir, “The Other Wes Moore”: his father dying of an untreated infection, growing up in the Bronx, getting into youthful trouble, being sent to military boarding school, finding his way and graduating from Johns Hopkins University, becoming a Rhodes Scholar, being deployed to Afghanistan with the Army, working in investment banking and eventually leading a large nonprofit in New York City that gives grants to anti-poverty organizations.
Moore said he’s seen in his career the gaps where government often falls short in helping the most vulnerable. From 2017 until he launched his campaign in 2021, Moore led the Robin Hood Foundation, a nonprofit that sent money from corporations and corporate leaders to organizations working to fight poverty.
“One of the biggest things I knew about all the organizations that we supported was the reason that all of them existed was because there was a breakdown somewhere,” Moore told the crowd at the Lewis Museum. “If we’re not fixing the systems that exist, then we will find ourselves cleaning up the debris that comes from broken systems.”
When it comes to Maryland, Moore is offering a policy platform that he promises will bring “work, wages and wealth” to more Marylanders.
His campaign promises include accelerating the timeline of bringing the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, funding the ambitious public school improvement program known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, offering a paid year of service for high school graduates, enticing businesses with targeted incentives, protecting access to abortion care and rebuilding the state government workforce that’s steadily shrunk under Hogan’s leadership.
Moore supports legalization of marijuana, provided that past convictions for possession are expunged and minority businesses have a path to being involved in the industry.
He pledges as governor to be a partner, not an antagonist, to leaders of Baltimore City as they work to improve public safety.
All of his policy decisions, Moore often says, will be guided by the military principle of “leave no one behind” — a slogan that’s plastered on his campaign signs.
As Moore drives toward November, his path has not always been smooth. This fall, Moore quickly paid off a $21,000 outstanding water bill on his home in Baltimore’s Guilford neighborhood after it was made public. He hasn’t explained how the bill got so high.
Moore has repeatedly faced questions about whether he’s allowed his personal story to be exaggerated by others. Moore was so frustrated by the questions in the primary election that he accused a rival Democrat of violating campaign laws by anonymously circulating documents about him; however, nothing has come of Moore’s request for an investigation.
Numerous writers and interviewers, including Winfrey, have said Moore was born and raised in Baltimore, or is a native Baltimorean — statements that have gone uncorrected by Moore. For several years, the paperback version of Moore’s memoir incorrectly said he was born and raised in Baltimore, just like the “other” Wes Moore featured in the book, who is serving a life sentence in prison for participating in a botched jewelry store robbery that left an off-duty police officer dead.
Others have questioned whether the candidate built his personal brand by exploiting the biography of the imprisoned Moore and Sgt. Bruce Prothero, the off-duty police officer who was killed.
The Moore who is in prison has not spoken about Wes Moore’s candidacy and did not respond to a letter from The Baltimore Banner earlier this year.
But one of the imprisoned Moore’s relatives, Daren Muhammad, has been vocal about the candidate. Muhammad appeared at a press conference outside Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters with Cox this fall to say that the book shouldn’t be taught or on reading lists in public schools.
“The book introduced Wes Moore not just to Baltimore, but to Maryland and the citizens of the United State of America,” Muhammad told reporters.
Cox also has criticized Moore for agreeing to just one televised debate, and has been particularly vocal about Moore declining to attend a forum sponsored by The Spokesman, the student newspaper at Morgan State University.
Moore has said it was important to show the contrast between himself and Cox. But Moore and his team have been leery about giving too much attention to Cox’s election conspiracy theories, including claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Viewers of the debate, Moore said, “got a very clear understanding of not just who I am, but also the danger that my opponent presents.”
Baltimore Banner reporter Emily Sullivan contributed to this article.