Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford warned on Thursday that a Dan Cox victory in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary would imperil down-ballot Republicans in November.
Cox, a first-term state delegate from Frederick County, is running with the full-throated endorsement of former President Trump. At a “tele-rally” on Wednesday, the two men heaped praise on one another, and they repeated unfounded claims about the 2020 election.
Schulz, a former state labor secretary and commerce secretary, has the backing of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and much of the Maryland GOP establishment. Rutherford spoke briefly on her behalf at the start of a press conference outside the State House.
In an interview with Maryland Matters, the lieutenant governor said that Cox would be a drag on other Republicans in November. “I think it hurts down-ballot Republicans. No question about it,” he said. “Because he is at that extreme end of the party.”
GOP candidates for state and local offices would “have to separate themselves” from Cox because of his unorthodox views, Rutherford added. “They’d have to do it right away, even if he doesn’t say any more than what he’s already said.”
Cox was a leading critic of the public health measures the Hogan administration put in place at the start of the pandemic. An attorney, he opposed mask mandates and he sued unsuccessfully to get restrictions on business activity and social interactions lifted. (He and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris were featured speakers at an anti-mandate rally early in the pandemic.)
Cox also filed an article of impeachment to remove Hogan from office, an effort that attracted no support from other members of the legislature and died following a seven-minute hearing.
Cox and his running mate, attorney Gordana Schifanelli, have a history of controversial statements. He accused Hogan of “backroom dealings” with the Chinese Communist Party, while she has drawn parallels between Queen Anne’s County educators and the leaders of the Hitler youth.
Republican Attorney General candidate Jim Shalleck agreed with Rutherford’s assessment. “His whole pitch in the Republican primary is ‘vote for me because I’m endorsed by Trump,’” he said. “But in a general election, that’s not popular at all.”
“For candidates down-ballot, the issue for them is going to be Cox and Trump, as opposed to their agenda,” Shalleck added.
Republicans have won three of the last five races for governor, despite the Democrats’ two-to-one voter registration advantage. They’ve done it with two moderate-appearing candidates, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Hogan.
Goucher College political science professor Mileah Kromer, director of the school’s polling operation, said on Tuesday that she has scoured the data to see how a firebrand like Cox could prevail in a general election — and she can’t find one.
“It’s a delicate and difficult path for Republicans in a state like Maryland,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how many Republican voters turn out in the general election. There’s not enough of them. You have to win Democrats and independents.”
“I’ve not seen a data-driven explanation of his path [to victory] from anybody,” she added. “I would love to see it.”
The Cox campaign did not respond to a request for comment. At Wednesday’s phone rally with Trump, the lawmaker said that “30%” of Maryland Democrats are aligned with his message of “liberty and freedom” and are prepared to cross party lines to support him in November.