- The Washington Times
Thursday, July 7, 2022

Gov. Larry Hogan has served up a blueprint for how Republicans can win statewide in deep-blue Maryland by cultivating a moderate image that resonates with some Democrats.

Hogan-backed Kelly Schulz is trying to duplicate that approach by casting herself as his sensible successor. As part of her campaign, she is warning voters that her chief rival in the Republican gubernatorial primary race, Donald Trump-backed state Delegate Dan Cox, is a dream candidate for Democrats and a surefire loser in the general election.

He is the only candidate who can ensure Democrats take back Maryland in 2022 because if you vote for crazy, Democrats win,” the narrator says in an ad that Ms. Schulz posted on social media this week.

Mr. Cox counters that his “America First” and liberty-focused message makes him far more appealing than Ms. Schulz, who served as state labor secretary and commerce secretary under Mr. Hogan, and puts him in a better position to cobble together a winning coalition in the fall election.

“The Democrats are scared of my campaign because I will actually debate them and am the only candidate in the race who will give Marylanders our freedom back by ending the mandates,” Mr. Cox said in an email to The Washington Times. “On Day One, I will order an end to jabs for jobs, forced masking, vaccine passports and testing, and instead any government or corporate agency that tries to coerce or force such medical decisions will face fines.”

Mr. Cox‘s critics note there has never been a vaccine passport in Maryland, nor is there a current statewide mask mandate.

Mr. Cox, who sought to impeach Mr. Hogan over his handling of COVID-19, said families concerned about what Maryland schools are teaching are flocking to his campaign. He said it is “clear” his campaign can win over 90% of Republicans, 67% of independents and 25% of Democrats.

Kelly Schulz cannot do so,” Mr. Cox said. “Maryland Republicans are done supporting RINOs, so my candidacy is the only opportunity for the GOP to unify and beat a Democrat this fall.”

The first day of early voting for the July 19 primary elections kicked off Thursday. Polls and pundits say the primaries are still wide-open free-for-alls.

A Goucher College Poll released last week showed 25% of Republicans planned to vote for Mr. Cox and 22% planned to back Ms. Schulz. The survey found that 44% of Republican primary voters were undecided, and 47% said they could change their minds in the closing days of the race.

John Dedie, a political science professor at Community College of Baltimore County, said voters are looking for someone cut from the same cloth as Mr. Hogan. He said it is a struggle because primary races encourage Republicans to run to the right and Democrats to run to the left.

“People think he has done a good job as governor,” Mr. Dedie said. “People are happy with the fact he has not increased taxes, and they like his personality and policies — in that order.”

Mr. Dedie said Ms. Schulz should feature Mr. Hogan in a campaign ad before the primary.

“If she waits to bring him out until October, it may be too late,” he said.

Mr. Hogan pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in the 2014 election when he won Maryland by 4 percentage points. In 2018, he expanded his margin of victory to 12 points.

Mr. Trump lost Maryland by 33 points in 2020 and 26 points in 2016.

“It is a tough state, tougher than New York, California or anywhere else,” Mr. Hogan said this week on the “Ruthless” podcast. “We have got more than 70% far-left progressives in both houses of our legislature. … It’s not like working in a red state.”

The governor’s race for the Democratic nomination also is a toss-up.

The Goucher College Poll showed that 16% of primary voters support State Comptroller Peter Franchot, 14% support former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore and 14 % support former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

The other Democrats are stuck in the single digits.

However, 35% of likely Democratic voters said they were undecided and 63% of those who picked a candidate said they could “change their mind.”

Towson University professor Richard Vatz, a Maryland politics scholar, said Republicans are in a tricky spot.

“Cox has positions that ironically could make him a serious candidate to win the nomination, but that would disqualify him from having any possibility of winning the election,” Mr. Vatz said. “On the other hand, Kelly Schulz, given the intensity of the Cox support, if she could get the nomination, a lot of Republicans could sit on their hands and not come out and vote in November.”

The Democratic Governors Association, meanwhile, is trying to influence the outcome of the Republican race mischievously.

Seeking to boost Mr. Cox, the association has aired a television commercial reminding voters that he is Mr. Trump’s hand-picked candidate, “100% pro-life” and opposes “any federal restrictions” on guns. “Dan Cox: Too close to Trump, too conservative for Maryland,” the narrator says.

The Schulz campaign said the Democrats’ meddling shows they know Mr. Cox “has no chance at winning a general election.”

“A vote for Dan Cox is a vote for higher taxes, a more dangerous Maryland, less funding for the police and one-party rule in Annapolis,” said Schulz spokesperson Mike Demkiw.

“If Dan Cox is the nominee, Maryland’s next governor will be a Democrat,” he said. “Dan Cox isn’t just unelectable; he’s completely unfit for office.”

Beyond Maryland’s gubernatorial race, Democrats are facing significant headwinds in the midterm elections while they defend their slim majorities in the House and Senate.

Political handicappers give Democrats the edge in the gubernatorial contests in Maryland and Massachusetts, where Republican Charlie Baker, another moderate and Trump critic, opted against seeking a third term.

Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College, said Maryland Republicans’ decision in the primary this month could make or break their chances of defending the Hogan post.

“It doesn’t matter how you slice it. Even under the most favorable turnout models, Republican candidates need Democratic voters to win statewide elections,” she said. “Our polls, past election results and Maryland’s political demographics all tell the same story: A Republican like Hogan will be competitive in November, but a Republican like Trump is not.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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