Del. Dan Cox declared victory Tuesday night in the Republican primary for governor, and several news outlets are also calling him the winner — an incredible repudiation of the state’s popular Republican governor, Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.
With 1,928 of 2,074 election day precincts reporting as of 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Cox had 129,152 votes, good for 56.2% of the vote to 92,723 votes or 40.35% for Hogan’s preferred candidate, former Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz. While the margin could shrink depending on the count of mail-in ballots, Cox appears headed to the general election — possibly against author and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore, who was leading in the Democratic primary. The Libertarian, Green and Working Class parties will also field general election candidates.
Cox, who was endorsed early by former President Trump, cast the result as a victory for freedom and for an “America First and Maryland First” agenda.
“We will never again give up our bodies, our churches and our businesses to a lock-down state,” he told 150 jubilant supporters at the Emmitsburg Ambulance Co. in Frederick County.
As four Republican candidates fought to replace Hogan, who is term limited, it appears as though the governor’s intraparty rival, Trump, has taken firm hold of the state’s GOP electorate.
The Associated Press called the Republican primary for Cox, who is completing his first term representing Frederick County in the House of Delegates, shortly after 11 p.m.
At that time, Cox was leading Schulz, endorsed by Hogan, in the results from early voting and Election Day returns, by a margin of more than 33,908 votes.
A short time earlier, Schulz had addressed the crowd at her election night watch party, urging caution as votes were still being counted.
“As all of you know, right now, we are behind in this race, but it is not over. It is not over by a long shot,” she told the crowd at an Annapolis corporate office park.
Schulz estimated that there would be more than 40,000 mail-in ballots for election officials to count beginning Thursday. As of Monday, the state had received more than 38,311 mail ballots from Republican voters.
“The only thing that matters in American democracy is counting votes. And counting them correctly. And in America and in Maryland, we count every vote,” Schulz said.
During his victory speech, Cox thanked, in order, “my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” his wife Valerie, and Trump.
“President Trump didn’t have to come alongside an outsider, a newcomer, so to speak,” Cox said. “He knew the odds. Look at how much we were outspent — something like $4 million to $600,000.”
Trump, Cox continued, “believed in the mission, he believed in the vision.”
Every mention of Trump drew prolonged chants of “USA! USA! USA!” from the crowd.
Cox may have also benefited in the primary from a $1 million investment the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) made for TV ads that appeared to attack the lawmaker but actually highlighted some of his rhetoric and positions in a way that might appeal to conservative Republican voters. Most Democrats — and plenty of Republicans — believe Cox will be easier to defeat in the fall than Schulz would have been.
The DGA on Tuesday night released a statement calling Cox’s agenda “dangerous” and vowing to hold him “accountable,” just as it did during the GOP primary.
“Dan Cox is a Q-Anon conspiracy theorist with an extremist track record who is unfit for office — and that’s just what his fellow Maryland Republicans like Larry Hogan have said about him,” Noam Lee, the DGA executive director, said in a statement. “His record includes busing insurrectionists to the deadly January 6th rally and calling Mike Pence a traitor while running on plans to completely ban abortion with no exceptions and make it easier for criminals to carry guns. We can’t let Dan Cox turn Maryland into MAGAland.”
Even if the DGA ads made it easier for Democrats to win in November, some Democrats were queasy with the committee’s decision to invest money to boost a candidate with such a conservative agenda who has questioned the veracity of the 2020 presidential election outcome. But Cox said Tuesday night he believes his message can appeal to Democrats and independents and not just conservative Republicans.
“All of Maryland yearns for freedom — people of every background, all parties,” he said. “I’m extending my hand to Democrats and independents, across party lines…so everyone can understand and trust our government again.”
Cox predicted that after years of COVID-19 public health restrictions, Democratic voters may be willing to turn their backs on some of their nominees.
“While we don’t know who my opponent is yet, everyone [in the Democratic gubernatorial primary], sadly, has said they’re on the side of bigger government.”
Cox compared his campaign operation to Schulz’s.
“They spent a million dollars on their staff, and my daughters worked for free,” he said — a reference in particular to one daughter, Patience Faith, who took on several key roles in his campaign and served as emcee of the election night party.
Curiously, Cox’s running mate, attorney Gordana Schifanelli, did not attend the campaign’s victory celebration Tuesday evening. Cox told reporters that Schifanelli was in the middle of a three-day trial on the Eastern Shore and was unable to make the trip to Western Maryland.
“She’s excited,” he said.
During her address to supporters Tuesday night, Schulz also drew comparisons to Cox and his campaign.
“We ran a campaign based on the truth and on the issues that really matter to Marylanders. …Most importantly, we never, ever lied to our supporters. We never told them things that were not true,” Schulz said. “We respected them to know the difference between what is real and what isn’t and to make the smart and conservative choice. I will never regret campaigning that way.”
Schulz reiterated her commitment to traditional Republican Party ideals and eschewed efforts to sow distrust in elections and spread misinformation.
“My Republican Party is the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and John McCain,” she said. “And that is exactly the party that I will continue to fight for.”
But that kind of GOP appears to increasingly be in disfavor with rank-and-file Republicans — despite Hogan’s enormous popularity with voters overall. And even though Schulz used many of the same consultants Hogan did, his popularity was not transferrable — and recent polls have suggested that while Hogan is popular with Maryland Republicans, Trump is viewed even more favorably.
Another Trump-aligned candidate, former Anne Arundel County Councilmember Michael Peroutka, appears headed to victory in the GOP primary for attorney general over Hogan’s pick, former prosecutor Jim Shalleck. Peroutka was leading 58% to 42% as of 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Hogan also endorsed Matthew Foldi, a political newcomer, in the 6th District congressional primary, but he was trounced by Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington), a social conservative making his second bid for the seat.