Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, who has not lost a political campaign since 1988, conceded to Wes Moore in the Democratic gubernatorial primary on Friday afternoon.
Franchot — who has held office in Annapolis since 1987, first in the House of Delegates, then as comptroller for the last 16 years — was running in third place with 21% of the vote after the first round of mail ballots were tallied on Thursday.
Moore, while he was projected to be the winner in the race Friday by multiple news outlets, has not yet declared victory.
“We’re obviously encouraged by the call, but have not yet declared victory,” Moore’s communications director said in a brief statement.
And the campaign for former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who is running second in the race, issued a statement Friday afternoon that it was “too early to call this race,” touting Perez’s support from mail ballots so far.
Moore, a former nonprofit CEO and best-selling author, amassed a wide margin of support during early voting and on Election Day, with 37% of the vote, compared to 27% for Perez. That lead had shrunk to 34.6% to 27.8% for Perez by early Friday.
The Perez campaign is particularly interested in seeing final vote totals from Montgomery County, which could have as many as 80,000 votes left to count and is the home of Perez’s base.
“We agree with the Moore campaign that as of today, with 134,000 uncounted received ballots and 170,000 additional outstanding ballots not yet recorded, no candidate is in a position to claim victory,” Perez campaign manager Sean Downey said. “Our campaign will continue to respect the dedicated work of election staff across the state as the counting process continues so that we can ensure that as many as 300,000 remaining votes are counted.”
The Associated Press issued an advisory Friday afternoon saying it was too early to call the race, noting Perez’s 22-point lead in Montgomery County, Maryland’s most populated jurisdiction. But after more votes were tallied during the day Friday, the AP projected Moore as the winner shortly after 11 p.m.
When almost 50,000 additional mail ballots were recorded throughout the day on Friday, Moore still maintained a 33.8% to 28.3% lead over Perez, according to the State Board of Elections.
Ballot counting is expected to continue on Saturday.
The ballot counting is taking longer than typical this year after Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) vetoed a bill that would have allowed local boards of election to start processing ballots before Election Day.
Franchot to return to private life for the first time since 1986
In a concession statement posted to social media, Franchot said: “I congratulate Wes Moore and Aruna Miller for running a successful campaign and becoming the Democratic nominees for governor and lieutenant governor. With voting rights, Roe vs. Wade, health care, common sense gun control, climate change, and economic stability being the key issues of this moment, it is vital that Marylanders come together to elect a Democrat to be the next governor.”
The loss was the first Franchot has suffered since 1988, when he came up short in a race for Congress. Then-Rep. Connie Morella (R), a popular moderate, sailed to re-election that year, picking up 63% of the vote. Franchot, who was in his first term in the Maryland House of Delegates, attracted 37% of the vote.
He promised supporters that evening that he would return to fight again, and he did — successfully. He served 20 years in the Maryland House, leaving a safe seat in a Takoma Park-based district in 2006 to challenge legendary Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. He came in first in a bruising three-way Democratic primary, largely by staying out of the way as the irascible Schaefer and former Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens (D) traded barbs in the media.
Franchot cruised to re-election as comptroller in 2010, 2014 and 2018. And he enjoyed telling audiences that he received more votes in pursuit of his fourth term as the state’s chief tax collector than anyone in state history.
His loss in the governor’s race will invite scrutiny of the strategy his campaign deployed.
For much of the campaign, public and private polls showed him out front. Franchot and his team responded by limiting his exposure to the public. The 74-year-old Connecticut native preferred to give speeches to friendly audiences or do one-on-interviews. Critics accused him of ducking debates, perhaps fearful that he could be put on the defensive about past votes or statements.
Franchot enjoyed speaking at length, on topics of his choosing, during the freewheeling opening moments of the Board of Public Works, sessions that he and Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) turned into gabfests.
Franchot’s one-time political alliance with Hogan was supposed to broaden his appeal to middle-of-the-road voters, the governor’s recipe for success over the last eight years. In the end, though, his move from Takoma Park liberal to Hogan Democrat may have muddled his brand, particularly as he seemed disinclined to mix it up with younger rivals.
Although he frequently boasted that his agency had embraced technology, and could speed tax refunds to workers’ bank accounts, Franchot said his first priorities as governor would be fixing potholes, picking up trash along the highway, and answering the phone at state agencies.
While votes are still being counted, Frederick County Del. Dan Cox, whose campaign was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has claimed victory as the Republican party’s nominee in November.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated throughout the day on Friday.