With Democrats’ Help, a Far-Right Candidate Rose in Maryland


Maryland’s Republican contest for governor was the third election this year in which Democrats have effectively teamed up with Republicans loyal to former President Donald J. Trump to help a far-right candidate win a blue-state primary.

Weeks ahead of Maryland’s Republican primary for governor, private Democratic polling showed the Trump-endorsed candidate, Dan Cox, with a slight lead over his establishment-backed rival, Kelly Schulz, a former cabinet secretary to Gov. Larry Hogan.

But polls showed that once Republican voters were told Mr. Cox, who spent just $21,000 on TV and radio advertising, had been endorsed by Mr. Trump and held staunchly conservative views on abortion, his advantage ballooned.

The Democratic Governors Association proceeded to spend more than $1.16 million on TV ads reminding Republican voters of Mr. Cox’s loyalty to Mr. Trump and endorsement from him.

Mr. Cox won his race on Tuesday by double digits. He became the latest Republican primary winner to demonstrate both the power of the party’s far-right base in selecting G.O.P. nominees and the establishment wing’s inability to halt Democratic meddling in primaries.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cox — who wrote on Twitter during the Capitol riot that Vice President Mike Pence was a “traitor” — dismissed the idea that he had been propped up by Democrats. They supported his primary bid in the belief that he cannot win the general election in Maryland, which Mr. Trump lost by 33 points in 2020.

“The Democrats didn’t win this race,” Mr. Cox said in an interview on “Fox & Friends,” the morning program watched regularly by Mr. Trump. “The arguments of my opponent were replayed over and over again, smearing me.”

The chief antagonist of Mr. Cox’s campaign was less any future Democratic opponent or even Ms. Schulz than it was Mr. Hogan, who won two terms as governor of an overwhelmingly Democratic state by focusing on Maryland’s economy while avoiding thorny social issues.

Mr. Cox’s strategy of playing to the Trumpist base of the party won him a commanding primary victory, though tens of thousands of uncounted absentee ballots are likely to narrow his 16-point margin.

Still, sowing division among Republicans and alienating moderate Democrats is the opposite of how Mr. Hogan won the last two elections. Mr. Cox is likely to face challenges broadening his support.

In the past, Mr. Cox has associated himself with followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. He has tweeted the group’s hashtag, and in April he appeared at an event called Patriots Arise at a hotel in Gettysburg, Pa., that was organized by a right-wing social media influencer whose website has promoted a QAnon slogan.

There, Mr. Cox promoted a similar brand of Christian nationalism that has animated the campaign of Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, who has endorsed Mr. Cox.

“The Constitution does not give us our liberties. It merely protects those that were given by God,” Mr. Cox said at the event. “We have natural rights that supersede any governor, any government, any official, all of which is based upon the fact that we are created in his image.”

Mr. Cox, in his Fox interview on Wednesday, played down the suggestion that he would not be able to build a winning coalition.

But Mr. Hogan didn’t wait 24 hours before signaling that he would not vote for Mr. Cox. “The governor will not support the QAnon candidate,” said Mr. Hogan’s spokesman, Mike Ricci.

Mr. Cox’s campaign manager, his daughter Patience Faith Cox, declined an interview request.

The state’s business community, after eight years of being aggressively courted by Mr. Hogan, might soon turn to the Democrats.

Rick Weldon, the president of the local chamber of commerce in Frederick, Md., said on Wednesday that he had better conversations about the needs of small businesses in the state with Wes Moore, who leads the still-uncalled Democratic primary, than with Mr. Cox, a state legislator from Frederick.

“Mr. Cox is a crusader,” Mr. Weldon said. “Crusaders, once they get elected, make relatively ineffective elected officials.”

Democrats’ backing of Mr. Cox was helped by Ms. Schulz’s minimal attempts to define him as unelectable. She never attacked him in television ads, hoping to employ the Hogan strategy of appealing to all manner of Republicans while also winning a substantial amount of Democratic votes in November.

Officials at the Democratic Governors Association bore no guilt about elevating a series of election-denying, Trump-loyal candidates who would seek to ban abortion, among a range of other measures, if they prevail in November.

“If the Republican Party had more leaders and less cowards at the top willing to speak truth to their voters, this lane wouldn’t even exist,” Mr. Turner said.

Ms. Schulz had raised about $2.5 million through early July — about five times as much as Mr. Cox took in.

But unlike Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia, who imported a host of ambitious Republicans looking to create some daylight between themselves and Mr. Trump with voters, Ms. Schulz never sought to make her contest a referendum on Trumpism.

Campaigning with national Republican figures would have made an already difficult general election much harder, said Doug Mayer, Ms. Schulz’s senior adviser.

“You don’t play to win the primary, you play to win the general,” Mr. Mayer said. “In Maryland, that is a very, very, very difficult line to walk.”

Mr. Cox’s Democratic opponent is likely to be Mr. Moore, a best-selling author and former nonprofit executive. Mr. Moore holds a 35,000-vote lead over Tom Perez, a former Democratic National Committee chairman. At least 169,000 Democratic absentee votes remain to be counted, but the number could be more than 300,000: Ballots postmarked by Tuesday will count as long as they are received by July 29.

On Thursday morning, election officials across Maryland will begin processing the absentee ballots received in the mail and in drop boxes. The counting is expected to take several days.

Elizabeth Dias contributed reporting.

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