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Election 2022 Government & Politics

Candidates for governor make final arguments ahead of primary election day

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez (second from left) at Zeke’s Coffee on Harford Road in Baltimore on Monday, chatting with (clockwise from right), City Councilmember Ryan Dorsey, Zeke’s owner Thomas Rhodes, and state Sen. Cory McCray. Photo by Josh Kurtz.

Maryland’s candidates for governor made their closing arguments Monday, one day before the state’s long-anticipated and once-delayed statewide primary. But because hundreds of thousands of voters have requested their ballots by mail or through early voting, the pre-primary day lacked some of the frenzy and drama of years past.

With ads blanketing the airwaves and political brochures stuffing voters’ mailboxes for weeks, several candidates resorted to retail politics, meeting voters at eateries, Metro stations, and even going door to door. One candidate, former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez finished the day with a virtual rally headlined by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), a San Franciscan for six decades but a Baltimorean by birth.

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Voters on Tuesday will be selecting nominees for all statewide offices — governor, comptroller, attorney general and U.S. Senate — along with nominees for all eight U.S. House seats, all 188 seats in the General Assembly, plus hundreds more at the county level. The Maryland primary was originally scheduled for June 28 but was delayed by three weeks to account for litigation over the state’s congressional and legislative redistricting plans.

The race to replace popular two-term Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who is term-limited, is the marquee contest — and questions abound about when results will actually be finalized, because state election officials aren’t able to begin counting mail-in ballots until Thursday.

As of Sunday, 333,411 mail-in ballots had been sent to registered Democrats and 131,046 had been returned to election offices. Republican voters had been sent 64,878 ballots as of Sunday and 24,395 had been returned — meaning the GOP primary, with former Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz and Del. Dan Cox as the top contenders, may get called earlier.

Just shy of 175,000 Marylanders voted early between July 7-14, so it isn’t clear who will show up at the polls on primary day.

One Democratic strategist said he fears the Republican general election campaign will be able to kick off quickly and emphatically before the Democrats can crown a winner.

>> RELATED: In a Unique Summer Primary, When Can Marylanders Expect Election Results?

The Democratic primary for governor is a 10-candidate affair, though it’s widely acknowledged that there are three frontrunners: Perez, state Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Wes Moore, a best-selling author and former foundation executive. But the race features several other seasoned public servants who will be factors in the final outcome, including former state Attorney General Doug Gansler, former U.S. Education Secretary John King, and former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, who has suspended his campaign but remains at the top of the Democratic primary ballot, because candidates are listed in alphabetical order. The other Democratic candidates are Jon Baron, Ralph Jaffe, Ashwani Jain, and Jerome Segal.

Most of the Democratic candidates focused Monday on meeting and influencing voters in the population centers in the central part of the state.

Perez spent much of his time in Baltimore, doing TV interviews, hitting coffee shops, and door knocking. He was supposed to eat lunch with two key supporters, state Sen. Cory McCray (D) and Baltimore City Councilmember Ryan Dorsey (D), at Zeke’s Coffee, a popular gathering spot on a gentrifying slice of Harford Road in Northeast Baltimore. But he kept getting interrupted by well-wishers and TV reporters and his entire lunch, save for a couple of bites of coleslaw, was packed into a box. Perez did not seem to mind.

“At this stage of the campaign, eating and sleeping are optional,” he laughed.

Perez said he feels confident that his campaign is “peaking at the right time” and is heartened by the fact that so many Democrats continue to be undecided.

“It works to our benefit,” he said. “It means they’re doing their homework and they’re seeing that I’m the candidate who has a record of defending abortion rights and fighting for affordable housing and other important issues.”

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Perez was spending a chunk of time in the 45th legislative district — where McCray is the senator.

“Cory was the first wave of support,” Perez said. “To say Cory was with me on day one is inaccurate, because Cory was with me before day one.”

While many of Baltimore City’s elected leaders have aligned with Moore, McCray has been unapologetic about his support for Perez, sending 13 mailers to his constituents on Perez’s behalf. He spoke admiringly of Franchot’s constituent service in the comptroller’s office and said he first encountered Moore about a decade ago at a dinner of young Baltimore leaders, but Perez in his estimation “is the real deal.”

“It’s happening,” he said of the Perez campaign’s perceived surge. “How you run a campaign in the last two or three months is a lot different than how you run it nine months out.”

McCray conceded that there’s “some risk” in backing Perez so visibly when so many Baltimore leaders are behind Moore, but said he isn’t especially worried about political fallout. “At the end of the day, people understand my work ethic and my love for the city,” he said.

Dorsey said he doesn’t see any risk in backing Perez, because “he’s going to win.” The councilmember said he too admires other candidates but said with Perez, “you get a conversation that goes two or three or four levels deep that I don’t have with anybody else.”

After Zeke’s, Perez was headed next to more friendly territory, the 46th legislative district in Baltimore City, where he was planning to go door-knocking with House Judiciary Committee Chair Luke Clippinger (D), a former campaign staffer.

Moore, meantime, started the day with a large group of sign wavers on Liberty Road in Baltimore County and then was greeting the lunch-hour crowd at R House, the popular food hall in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood.

The Moore campaign did not put out a schedule of the candidate’s activities, spokesman Brian Adam Jones said, because Moore wanted to be as flexible as possible about his movements, and was expecting to do some door-knocking and telephoning of his own in his hometown.

“He’s mainly connecting with voters in Baltimore and spending time with family,” Jones said.

Jones said the campaign has built a strong ground game, is confident it has momentum, and has been heartened by what it has been hearing about Moore’s level of support in Prince George’s County, where the campaign ran a major phone bank operation on Sunday.

Moore’s running mate, former Del. Aruna Miller, was canvassing in Montgomery County on Monday, accompanied for part of the time by an old friend of Moore’s, Hartford, Conn., Mayor Luke Bronin.

Franchot kept a low-profile on the eve of the election. He appeared at just one public event on Monday, offering brief remarks in Largo at the Bi-County Business Roundtable, a gathering of approximately 125 Black businesspeople.

Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) shakes hands after speaking on Monday to the Bi-County Business Roundtable breakfast in Largo. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

He drew applause when he said he would pressure state agencies to make greater use minority- and women-owned contractors. He also pledged to rein in state spending and played up his long tenure as Maryland’s chief tax collector (15 years) and state legislator (20 years).

“I actually know what I’m doing,” he crowed. “I know where the money is.”

After delivering his stump speech, Franchot shook hands and posed for photos on his way out the door.

He told a reporter he was “quietly confident” of a win on Tuesday, saying the campaign’s phone bank operation has been getting positive feedback from voters.

The comptroller scoffed and spun on his heels when asked about polling analyst Nate Silver’s demand that he “delete” and “apologize for” a post that Silver said misrepresented one of his posts.

Franchot’s post falsely claimed that the site’s statistical models have him “clearly favored” to win the primary and the general (if his Republican opponent is Kelly Schulz). Silver called this “misinformation,” pointing to fine print that called the Franchot-Schulz matchup a “best guess as to who the nominee will be.” Numerous twitter users said the site was sloppy in how it presented its findings.

Franchot’s press secretary attempted to end the interview and steer him toward the door.

The comptroller said Hogan and the General Assembly share blame for the looming delay in counting ballots. He faulted Hogan for vetoing a bill that would have — among other things — allowed local elections officials to begin the ballot canvass earlier, and he blamed lawmakers for not returning to Annapolis to override him. “Every four years, we end up with a problem with the state elections,” he said. “It’s embarrassing for the state of Maryland that it’s not going to be days, it could be weeks.”

Gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler (D), a former two-term state attorney general, speaks with a voter in Kensington on Friday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Gansler devoted several hours each day to door knocking during the closing stretch of the campaign.

A former two-term Montgomery County state’s attorney who served as state attorney general from 2002 until 2010, Gansler said he and his team knocked on more than 2,000 doors.

In the not-infrequent instances where no one came to the door, the campaign left a piece of literature hand-signed: “Sorry I missed you, — Doug.” When voters were home, the candidate said, they are pleasantly surprised to find a gubernatorial hopeful on their doorstep.

He said the interactions give him an insight into voters’ issues that aren’t gettable in other venues. (Access to abortion has become a top issue in the weeks since the Dobbs case, said Gansler, an abortion-rights supporter.)

“I enjoy it. I think it’s very effective. You hear their issues; you hear what their concerns are,” he said. “I may not win the race, but no one is ever going to out-work me.”

Even after a fierce late-afternoon rain storm, King continued with his plans to greet voters at Montgomery County Metro stations Monday afternoon.

King and his supporters — including one in a large crab costume — spoke with voters in Silver Spring, while his running mate, Michelle Siri, chatted with commuters in Bethesda.

“Made the most of a rainy evening,” King tweeted. “…We’re leaving it all on the field.”

The efforts followed a weekend of door-to-door canvassing, visits to farmer’s markets and sign-planting across Maryland.

On the Republican side, Schulz said she spent her final day on the campaign trail before polls open making calls to voters. Within the past week, her campaign had knocked on more than 30,000 doors and called more than 100,000 voters, Schulz said.

She sensed that voters are becoming more motivated as the election season comes to an end.

“In the last two weeks, people are really coming out of their undecided status,” Schulz said. “They have been paying a lot more attention and we’ve had … some great conversations on the phone, great conversations at the door.”

Schulz said she’s been discussing the importance of keeping a Republican governor in the State House as a check to the Democratic-majority General Assembly.

Part of voters’ motivation in recent weeks, Schulz said, stems from a recent ad blitz by the Democratic Governors Association that her campaign has argued bolsters Cox.

>> RELATED: At Raucous Rally, Hogan and Schulz Accuse Democrats of Meddling in Maryland’s GOP Primary 

Cox on Monday tweeted a get-out-the-vote message from former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed his campaign. Trump, in the message, referred to Hogan and Schulz as “RINO.”

Also running in the Republican primary are Robin Ficker and Joe Werner.

Hogan, who has made no secret of his strong support for Schulz in the GOP primary, has been noticeably absent from the state in the run-up to Tuesday’s primary — in places with decidedly more pleasant summer weather than Maryland. Last week, Hogan, who is pondering a White House bid in 2024, was in Connecticut stumping for Themis Klarides, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, then made a campaign-style swing through New Hampshire, the first state to host a presidential primary, then attended the National Governors Association conference in Portland, Maine.

Hogan is kicking off this week at a Republican Governors Association conference in Aspen, Colo.