Democrat Wes Moore cruised to victory in the race for governor on Tuesday over Republican state legislator Dan Cox.
Several national news organizations declared Moore the winner just moments after polls were scheduled to close at 8 p.m.
Voters still in line at 8 p.m. can continue to wait in line to cast their ballots.
Moore, a charismatic 44-year-old political newcomer with a sterling resume that includes experience in business, philanthropy and the military, is poised to make history, becoming just the third Black person in U.S. history — and the first in Maryland — to be elected governor.
And Moore’s running mate, former Montgomery County state Del. Aruna Miller, who was born in India, will become the first immigrant to hold a statewide post in the modern era when the duo assume power in January.
Moore hosted an election night victory party at a ballroom packed with hundreds of supporters in Baltimore. Other candidates on hand included Del. Brooke Lierman, Democrats’ nominee for comptroller, attorney general nominee Anthony Brown, and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
In a nod to the slogan he adopted 19 months ago at his campaign’s launch, Moore campaign projected a large slogan “No one left behind” at the front of the ballroom.
Gov. Larry Hogan, the state’s term-limited Republican governor, leaves office on Jan. 18, following eight years in power.
Cox was gathering Tuesday with members of his family and supporters at a hotel in Annapolis.
When Moore launched his candidacy in 2021, four-term Comptroller Peter Franchot was considered most likely to win the Democratic nomination. The pair jockeyed for position in a large field that included several familiar political figures, including former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, former state Attorney General Doug Gansler, and former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. Dawn Moore’s work in the office of former Maryland Secretary of State John Willis and with Brown in the lieutenant governor’s office helped the couple establish connections with the state’s political leadership, but Wes Moore was untested as a political candidate.
He quickly established himself as a force on the campaign trail, utilizing his dazzling resume, his ability to establish quick rapport with seemingly anyone, and his good looks to maximum advantage. Moore and Miller carried the 10-candidate Democratic primary in July, winning 32% of the vote.
A native of Takoma Park who grew up largely in New York, Moore, after attending a military high school and college, studied at Johns Hopkins and Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, served as a White House fellow, worked on Wall Street, led a combat squadron in Afghanistan, wrote a best-selling book, and ran a national poverty-fighting non-profit.
He faced questions about whether his best-selling book, “The Other Wes Moore,” over-stated his ties to Maryland, and critics said he failed to correct interviewers who falsely said he won the Bronze Star. But Moore survived those challenges.
He won endorsements from President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and a long list of prominent organizations — including unions representing teachers, police officers and laborers. That backing, along with endorsements from The Baltimore Sun and Washington Post, helped Moore out-fundraise Cox by a 10-to-1 margin.
Moore and Cox engaged in one debate, a testy encounter that aired on Maryland Public Television and two broadcast outlets. While the debate could have served as the starting gun for a more robust campaign, it did not. The two camps appeared to go on auto-pilot once it was over.
Cox workshopped various themes on the campaign trail — accusing Moore of being a free-spending socialist, referring to himself as a “civil rights attorney” — but he appeared unable (or unwilling) to engage in sustained outreach beyond his base. He was dogged by questions about whether he would accept the results of Tuesday’s balloting, and his convoluted answers reminded many of his promotion of baseless allegations about the 2020 campaign, something many voters said was a turnoff.
Moore also benefited enormously from Hogan’s repeated descriptions of Cox as a “QAnon whack job” who had no chance of winning.
Cox spent scarce campaign funds on a lengthy legal battle with the state Board of Elections over when mail-in ballots should be counted. His running mate, Gordana Schifanelli, a Queen Anne’s County attorney, kept an unusually low profile during the campaign, though she maintained a combative presence on social media, where she stoked election conspiracies.
Maryland Republicans were deeply divided after the primary. State GOP leaders appeared less-than-eager to lend their voices to the Cox campaign, as did Rep. Andy Harris, the lone Republican in the state’s congressional delegation. Democrats, meantime, successfully pulled off a unity rally in vote-rich Montgomery County just days after the primary results were tallied, with Perez and Franchot offering powerful endorsements of the the winning ticket.
Political professionals in both parties viewed former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz to be a far more strategic choice for the Republican Party in the general election. But even with the backing of the popular Hogan, her campaign flamed out in the primary, setting the stage for Democrats to retake the governor’s mansion after back-to back losses.
With Democrats likely to maintain their supermajorities in the General Assembly, they will now have full control of the State House for the first time since 2014.
By Bruce DePuyt