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Election 2022 Government & Politics

DGA Poll: Trump’s Endorsement Could Sway GOP Voters Toward Cox

Photos of Dan Cox and Kelly Schulz campaigning over the summer
Del. Daniel L. Cox and former Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz are vying for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in the July 19 primary. Photos by Danielle E. Gaines.

Maryland Republicans are more likely to support gubernatorial hopeful Dan Cox if they know that he has been endorsed by former president Donald Trump, according to a new survey.

Most GOP voters aren’t aware that Cox, a state delegate who represents parts of Frederick and Carroll counties, has the former president’s support, the poll found. Taken together, the results suggest Trump’s endorsement could be beneficial for Cox as he battles former state Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz and a third candidate in the Republican primary, analysts said.

The poll surveyed 565 GOP voters who said they intend to vote in the June 28 primary. It was conducted by Public Policy Polling on Jan. 28 and 29 and was commissioned by the Democratic Governors Association.

When pollsters first queried GOP voters about the race, 20% said they support Cox and 12% said they back Schulz. Just under 70% were undecided. The poll did not include anti-tax advocate Robin Ficker, a frequent candidate, in its survey, even though Ficker has been actively campaigning for two years.

When pollsters informed voters that Trump has endorsed Cox and that Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has endorsed Schulz, Cox’s lead grows to 52%-18%. The number of undecideds plummets from 69% to 30%.

The poll, which was conducted over the phone and by text message, has a 4.1-point margin of error.

Analysts said the results are yet another sign that the disgraced former president retains broad support among rank-and-file Republicans.

“It’s clear that Donald Trump continues to drive the narrative within the Republican Party,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a presidential historian and author at the University of Mary Washington. “This demonstrates that a large number of Republican primary voters continue to listen to Donald Trump.”

In an interview, Cox said the survey “confirms what we’re seeing on the campaign trail.”

“The Maryland Republican Party firmly believes in the America First value of our Republican platform and I’m honored to be carrying that banner,” he added. “But we’re running with the recognition that we are the underdogs.”

Recently released campaign finance reports showed that Schulz has a towering financial advantage over Cox, thanks in large part to donations from groups and individuals with ties to the Hogan wing of the party. She has raised nearly $1.5 million and had $1.05 million remaining as of Jan. 12; Ficker had more than $900,000 (mostly his own money) in his account, while Cox had just $270,000 cash-on-hand, having raised approximately $390,000.

The Schulz campaign would not make anyone available for an interview about the poll. In a statement, spokesman Mike Demkiw declined to address the poll’s findings or methodology, except to characterize it as a “push poll” — though the pollsters asked no questions that distorted facts or spun hypothetical scenarios.

“These are the same political operatives who thought Anthony Brown would beat Larry Hogan and that Ben Jealous stood a chance,” Demkiw said, adding that the survey “only proves that they are scared to face a smart, pragmatic candidate like Kelly Schulz in the general election. They’ve lost 3 out of the last 5 gubernatorial elections, it’s about to be 4 out of 6.”

The survey found that 71% of GOP voters are unaware that Trump endorsed Cox in November. Although he has struggled to raise funds, Cox insists the former president’s support gives his campaign room to grow.

“People that are not necessarily politically active every single day, when they find out about the fact that we are the Republican candidate with the conservative values that they agree with, they’re immediately aligning themselves with our campaign,” he said.

Cox drew criticism for his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, when he provided transportation for constituents to attend the Trump rally that preceded the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. At the height of the melee, Cox took to social media to call then-Vice President Mike Pence “a traitor.”

The poll found that Maryland Republicans share baseless beliefs about the 2020 election. Just 27% said they believe “that Joe Biden was legitimately elected President in 2020” while 61% do not.

Asked to choose between two statements — “COVID-19 was overblown by liberals to restrict our rights and undermine Donald Trump,” or “COVID-19 is a deadly virus that the U.S. was slow to respond to and thousands died as a result” — 61% said COVID was overblown and 24% called it a deadly virus.

Perhaps more troublingly for Schulz, who has sought to steer clear of the former president without explicitly criticizing him, 61% of Maryland GOP voters said they would “prefer for the Republican nominee for Governor in the general election to embrace Donald Trump’s agenda” while just 27% said they would rather have someone who “appeal(s) to Maryland’s diverse electorate.”