One Night on the Virtual Campaign Trail
Wes Moore called his friend Oprah Winfrey to tell her he was thinking of running for governor on Jan. 6, 2021. As they chatted, both kept half an eye on the television screen and watched, to their horror, the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
“I remember that so vividly,” Winfrey said Tuesday evening. “Both of us said, ‘Are we seeing what we think we’re seeing?'”
Winfrey recounted this conversation during a virtual fundraiser for Moore, a best-selling author and former nonprofit leader who is now one of the frontrunners for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Close to 300 people tuned in to listen to Winfrey, perhaps the world’s most famous professional questioner, ask Moore about leadership, destiny, Baltimore, and his plans if he’s elected.
Moore said his decision to enter politics was propelled in part by the chaos they witnessed at the Capitol on Jan. 6, his worries about the state of democracy, and suddenly feeling the weight of history.
“On one side was the ancestors,” he recalled. “On the other side was the future generations. And both were saying, ‘What are you gonna do about it?'”
Rarely, if ever, has Maryland seen such a high-wattage celebrity at a political event.
But Winfrey is no stranger to Maryland, and vice-versa. Early in her career, she spent eight years at Baltimore’s WJZ-TV in a variety of capacities, arriving when she was 22.
“I’ve got deep roots in Baltimore,” she told the Zoom viewers Tuesday. “I believe I became a woman in Baltimore.”
Today, Winfrey regularly supports three Baltimore philanthropies: Out for Justice, the Center for Urban Families, and Living Classrooms.
“This is a local icon,” said Moore, who got some of his first national exposure as an author on Winfrey’s syndicated talk show more than a decade ago. “She is a philanthropist of the highest order. She’s a record breaker. She’s a door opener. But the most important thing she is is a friend.”
Winfrey asked Moore a series of incisive questions that revealed some telling things about the candidate and his worldview, but also enabled him to press many of the points he’s emphasized on the campaign trail. Moore said the main theme of his candidacy is to bring opportunity to people and communities that have been left behind.
Winfrey noted that Moore has never served in government before. “How you gonna do all this?” she asked.
Moore said that through all his various positions in the private sector and the nonprofit world, “I bring a unique sense of partnership.” He also offered this observation: “If the government is not fully in the game, then we are going to find ourselves cleaning up the debris of a broken system.”
Moore boasted of all the endorsements he’s received from elected officials. “They’re not doing it because I’m a nice guy,” he said. “They’re doing it because they believe in partnership.”
Winfrey also gently “went there,” asking Moore about allegations that his best-selling book, “The Other Wes Moore,” contained fabrications about his personal history.
Moore said the publisher initially made an error in its marketing campaign by suggesting that Moore and the other Wes Moore, who is serving a life sentence for murder, grew up in the same neighborhood in Baltimore.
“There was nothing written in the book and nothing inside that was incorrect,” he insisted. But he conceded that “political opponents” have attempted to sow doubts about the veracity of his story.
After some more conversation between Moore and Winfrey, Moore invited Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D), one of Moore’s most high-profile supporters, to ask Winfrey a question. Laying it on thick, Alsobrooks asked Winfrey what she “saw” that convinced her Moore would be a great leader.
“What a good, little powerful question to try to throw me off,” Winfrey remarked. She then talked about leadership qualities she admires generally, like energy and authenticity an indefinable “it factor,” and a willingness to make sacrifices. Moore, Winfrey said, possesses them.
“You can feel the power and authenticity of that person,” she said. “You can feel the light.”
Moore supporters were wildly active in the Zoom chat function throughout the hour-plus event. Midway through the conversation, someone wrote, “Oprah for president — Wes will be VP.”
Winfrey wasn’t prepared to talk about her own political potential. But she said she still harbors an ambition to turn “The Other Wes Moore” into a movie.
“Maybe that day’s still coming,” she said.
Elsewhere on the campaign trail
At the exact hour Moore was gabbing with Oprah, rival John King and his running mate Michelle Siri were participating in an online discussion centered on protecting “the right to abortion care in a post-Roe world.”
The discussion was moderated by Lily Bolourian, head of Pro-Choice Maryland Action, which has endorsed the King/Siri ticket. It featured congressional hopeful Heather Mizeur (D) and Michele Gregory (D), a Salisbury city councilmember who is a candidate for state Senate.
King left no doubt where he stood on the issue, saying “abortion care is health care.”
He said that if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, it would mean that his daughters would have less autonomy over their bodies than their mother and grandmothers have had.
“We could see attacks on contraceptive rights. We could see attacks on folks’ ability to use [in vitro fertilization]. We could see attacks on civil rights for LGBTQ folks,” he said. “So this could be a real assault on human dignity.”
Siri said Maryland is already seeing an influx of people from states where access is scarce and the laws are restrictive.
“Clinics are seeing a surge in wait times. We’ve got wait times of four, five, six weeks or more,” she said. “The longer that somebody waits to get an abortion, the more expensive it becomes, the harder it is to obtain, and there are higher risks involved.”
Siri called for a constitutional amendment to make sure that abortion access in Maryland is protected.
King criticized Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kelly Schulz, who as a state delegate voted to restrict access to abortions. At a recent candidate forum, he charged, Schulz offered assurances similar to those Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh gave during his confirmation hearings.
“It was an answer about ‘settled law’ that just doesn’t cut it in a post-Roe world,” he said. “This is not an issue where we can just trust someone who says: ‘This is a settled matter. Don’t worry.'”