Maryland gubernatorial primaries test both parties’ attitudes toward their establishments


Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is among his party’s most moderate figures and one who has frequently criticized former President Donald Trump, is barred by term limits from seeking reelection.

His departure has turned the primaries in the governor’s race — one unfolding in a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by about two-to-one, but where the GOP has held the governor’s office for 12 of the last 20 years — into a window into the larger battles unfolding in both parties on the national stage.

Republican voters have four candidates on their gubernatorial primary ballot — but the race is primarily a clash between Hogan’s moderate wing and those devoted to Trump and his brand of politics.

The Hogan-backed Kelly Schulz, Maryland’s former secretary of commerce, faces Dan Cox, a far-right state lawmaker who sued to block Hogan’s coronavirus pandemic-related mandates and sought to impeach the GOP governor over those public safety measures.

Democrats, meanwhile, are set for a wide-open showdown featuring 10 candidates — a field that includes former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, Oprah Winfrey-backed author Wes Moore, state comptroller Peter Franchot, former US Education Secretary John King and Doug Gansler, the former Maryland attorney general and failed 2014 gubernatorial candidate.

The primaries in the governor’s race are the most closely watched contests on Tuesday’s slate in Maryland, where the election was pushed back three weeks due to litigation over the state’s legislative maps.

Election results could take days or even weeks to finalize. According to Maryland’s Board of Elections, more than 508,000 people requested mail-in ballots — shattering previous records for primaries. Counties cannot begin counting those ballots until Thursday, and elections officials say some counties could still be counting mail-in ballots in the first week of August.

Gubernatorial primaries

Several candidates for governor would make history in a state that has only ever elected White men as its chief executive.

Perez, the former DNC chairman, has emphasized his national experience as well as his local roots. He is a former Montgomery County councilman and was Maryland’s labor secretary prior to joining former President Barack Obama’s Justice Department as assistant attorney general for civil rights and later, Obama’s US labor secretary.

A Perez ad used Obama’s previous comments about Perez, with the former President calling Perez “tireless” and “wicked smart.”

Moore, meanwhile, aired an ad voiced by Winfrey, in which the television star calls Moore a friend and walks through his resume. Winfrey calls Moore “the type of transformational leader that these times demand.”

Schultz is a rare Republican who could tap into Hogan’s unusual popularity in Maryland — a reality that could appeal to GOP voters focused on electability but alienate those who have soured on Hogan after years of criticism of Trump.

The Democratic Governors Association has pumped more than $1 million into television ads seeking to boost Cox, who Democrats view as the weaker candidate in November’s general elections.

Those ads highlight Cox’s positions that could be popular in a Republican primary but politically problematic in a blue state’s general election, including his opposition to gun restrictions and abortion rights and his endorsement from Trump. One spot calls Cox “too close to Trump, too conservative for Maryland.”

Schultz, in a news conference with Hogan last month, said that Democrats are attempting to “spend a million now and save $5 million by not having to face me in the general election.”

Cox, meanwhile, has stoked fears about election fraud. He said in December 2020 on Facebook that Trump should seize voting machines. He chartered three buses to Trump’s January 6, 2021, rally in Washington. And he tweeted amid the insurrection, “Pence is a traitor.”

He has also threatened a lawsuit over mail-in ballots.

Down the ballot

Among the down-ballot races that will be settled Tuesday are a Democratic Senate battle, a House contest and a primary for attorney general — one that is effectively the general election in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to the post in more than 100 years. (One Republican, Edward Rollins, was appointed to the post in 1952.)

Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who suffered a minor stroke in May, faces a primary challenge from Michelle Smith, a Freedom of Information Act policy analyst with the US Agency for International Development. Ten Republicans are vying to take on the winner of that primary, but Van Hollen is heavily favored to win a second term.

One of Maryland’s eight congressional seats is open this fall: The heavily Democratic 4th District seat, currently held by Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown, features former Rep. Donna Edwards facing former Prince George’s County state’s attorney Glenn Ivey in the Democratic primary.

Edwards has high-profile supporters, including Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Ivey is being bolstered by ads attacking Edwards from the super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The Democratic primary for Maryland attorney general is another key contest Tuesday. Brown, the former lieutenant governor under Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley who is leaving his House seat after three terms, is facing O’Malley’s wife, Katie Curran O’Malley, a former Baltimore City district court judge.

In an ad, O’Malley said Brown “is a fine congressman, but he’s never tried a criminal case in Maryland and he doesn’t have the right experience for this job.”

Brown, a Harvard-educated former military lawyer, is backed by VoteVets, which supports Democratic candidates with military experience. In an ad criticizing O’Malley, VoteVets slams O’Malley’s ad as “a shame,” saying that it “just dismisses the experience of one of the most qualified people to ever run for attorney general.”

Both would be history-making candidates — Brown as the first Black person to serve as Maryland attorney general, and O’Malley as the first woman to hold the office.

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