Wes Moore wins Democratic nomination for Maryland governor

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Wes Moore, a best-selling author who garnered high-profile celebrity and political endorsements, is projected by the Associated Press to win the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor, setting up a battle between a state legislator who rallied the Make America Great Again base and a charismatic political newcomer who, if elected, would be the state’s first Black chief executive.

Moore beat two Obama Cabinet secretaries and another two candidates with multiple statewide wins to emerge from a crowded Democratic field.

Roughly two out of three Democrats picked someone else, and Moore will need to win them over. In November, Moore is poised to face off against Dan Cox, a freshman lawmaker backed by Donald Trump who claims that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen,” as he seeks to return the governor’s mansion to Democrats after two terms under Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

If elected in November, Moore, 43, a former nonprofit chief, would become only the third Black governor elected in the nation’s history. He galvanized the party’s base in the most diverse state on the East Coast with a message of equity and opportunity for all.

“I know a lot of people thought this was an improbable journey, but the reality of it is this … that our lives, for so many of us, have been an improbable journey,” Moore told a cheering crowd of supporters of different ages and races late Tuesday in Baltimore, as returns showed him leading the 10-person race. “I was almost 4 years old when my father died in front of me because he didn’t get the health care that he needed. … So much about all of our journeys is improbable.”

Moore’s lead cemented after elections officials across the state began tallying the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast by mail, lifting him over former U.S. labor secretary Tom Perez, Comptroller Peter Franchot, former U.S. education secretary John B. King Jr., former attorney general Douglas Gansler, and others.

Republicans are likely to seize on questions rivals raised during the Democratic campaign that Moore did not do enough to correct misperceptions about his compelling personal story.

In the end, the contest became a two-man race between Moore and Perez.

2022 Maryland primary elections results

While others had more experience, more labor support or stronger backing from liberal groups, Moore had a bigger war chest, a coveted endorsement from the state’s powerful teachers union and the backing of almost all of the state’s top Democratic elected officials.

Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College, said there is an “almost impossible path” to victory for Cox — who called Vice President Mike Pence a “traitor” on Jan. 6, 2021, on Twitter (he later expressed regret for his choice of words) — in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2 to 1. Kromer, who conducts polling, said that none of the Goucher surveys show Trump as a popular figure among Democrats or independents in Maryland.

Kromer said Moore’s ability to raise money and assemble a coalition makes him “incredibly formidable. He would have been formidable even against Kelly Schulz,” a former member of Hogan’s Cabinet who was endorsed by the governor and defeated by Cox.

Moore’s supporters include Maryland insiders such as Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), and wealthy outsiders like Spike Lee and Oprah Winfrey, who befriended Moore about a decade ago after the publication of his book “The Other Wes Moore.” Winfrey, who recorded radio and TV ads for Moore, was the special guest during a virtual fundraiser that brought in more than $100,000 in the final weeks of the campaign.

The historic prospect of Moore’s candidacy carries a shadow and a challenge: Only recently have Democrats nominated Black candidates to the governorship, and the last two have failed to win the job even as they captured more of the electorate.

Moore is the third Black candidate to win the Democratic nomination in the past three election cycles. Former lieutenant governor Anthony G. Brown lost to Hogan in 2014 and, in his bid for reelection, Hogan defeated former NAACP president Ben Jealous in 2018.

This spring, a prolific Democratic donor and state party official questioned the electability of Black gubernatorial candidates. In an email sent to party insiders to build support for Perez, Barbara Goldberg Goldman, then the state party’s deputy treasurer, wrote: “Consider this: Three African American males have run statewide for Governor and have lost. Maryland is not a Blue state. It’s a purple one. This is a fact we must not ignore.”

Goldberg Goldman resigned after the email became public.

Jealous has scoffed at the notion that Black candidates cannot win in Maryland statewide. Jealous won more than 1 million votes in his unsuccessful bid — a figure that probably would have resulted in a victory, he said, if his opponent wasn’t a popular incumbent.

After Cox’s win late Tuesday, the Cook Political Report, which assesses political races, reclassified the contest from “leans Democrat” to “solid Democrat.”

“The bottom line is the Republicans might have had a chance, but now this race is off the table for them,” said Jessica Taylor, an editor with Cook.

Cox is preparing for battle. On Thursday, he emailed a letter to supporters with the subject line: “Moore is LESS for Maryland.”

“Our governor refuses to support us, meaning we the People will need to work extra hard to ensure he and his friends do not hand our state over to the hard Left,” the email read.

Moore was on track to secure decisive victories in Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Baltimore counties, and to come in a distant second in Montgomery County, home to four of the top contenders.

During his year-long campaign, Moore, a Rhodes scholar, combat veteran and former investment banker, often homed in on his upbringing and the opportunities he was afforded, which informed “The Other Wes Moore,” the book that launched his national profile.

On the trail, he had to fend off allegations that he exaggerated his biography and failed to correct details about his life. An anonymous political dossier surfaced in the spring that accused Moore of falsely suggesting he was born in Baltimore and that he embellished the hardships he and his mother faced during his childhood.

Several published articles and interviewers over the years repeated incorrect details about Moore that for years went uncorrected. Moore denied that he ever misrepresented himself and in an interview charged his opponents with inflaming the issue to block his rise.

Some Democrats worried that Moore’s past would become ready-made ammunition for Republicans to use in a general election, dashing the party’s chances of winning.

Despite the questions, Moore’s candidacy continued to gain momentum with additional endorsements from elected officials and more money into his coffers.

Susie Turnbull, who was Jealous’s running mate for governor in 2018 and campaigned for Moore, summed up Moore’s appeal:

“In 2000, the question was: ‘Who do you want to have a beer with?’ ” she said. Now, “After all that all of us have gone through, it’s: ‘Who do you want to hug you?’ ”

Eva Herscowitz contributed to this report.

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