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Election 2022 Government & Politics

Barriers fall as Wes Moore is declared victor, Maryland’s first Black governor

Wes Moore, who will become Maryland’s first Black governor in January, celebrates with his family on Tuesday night. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Democrat Wes Moore cruised to victory in the race for governor on Tuesday, becoming just the third Black person in U.S. history — and the first in Maryland — to be elected governor.

A charismatic 44-year-old political newcomer with a sterling resume that includes experience in business, philanthropy and the military, Moore was fueled to victory by powerhouse margins in Baltimore and the large counties in the I-95 corridor, including Montgomery, Prince George’s, Baltimore and Howard. Several national news organizations declared Moore the winner over Republican state legislator Dan Cox just moments after polls closed at 8 p.m.

As of 10:30 p.m., with 1,531 of 2,074 Election Day precincts reporting, Moore had 60.1% of the vote. Cox had 36.6%.

And while Moore is at the top of the ticket, his running mate, former Montgomery County state Del. Aruna Miller, who was born in India, will also make history when the duo assume power in January — as the first immigrant to hold a statewide post in the modern era and the first woman of color to serve as lieutenant governor.

Democrat Aruna Miller, who will be the first immigrant and woman of color to serve as Maryland’s lieutenant governor, celebrates on Tuesday night. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Looking out at a Baltimore hotel ballroom packed with more than 1,000 supporters Tuesday night, Miller recalled arriving in the United States at the age of 7 in 1972, her family full of hope and opportunity.

“I have never, ever stopped being excited about the great promise of America. And I will never stop fighting to make sure that promise is available to everybody,” Miller said.

Moore, who took the stage next, declared himself “truly humbled” by the win. “We know these results are still rolling in,” he said. “But it is clear, y’all gave us a mandate. And that mandate is for a vision for a healthier and a wealthier Maryland.”

Recalling some of the individual stories he heard during his 17-month campaign, Moore said his administration will focus on public safety, education and “abortion rights and access.” He pledged “free pre-K for every single child in need in the State of Maryland.”

Moore’s gathering featured some of the other candidates who won races and made history on Tuesday, including Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City), who will become Maryland’s first woman comptroller next year, and Rep. Anthony Brown, who won his race and will become the state’s first Black attorney general.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who beat back modest opposition and won a second term, was on hand as well.

Moore came on stage to the Kygo & Whitney Houston song “Higher Love.” After he spoke, he was embraced by his wife Dawn and the couple’s two children. Confetti fell from the ceiling and the DJ played the Sounds of Blackness song “Optimistic.”

Gov. Larry Hogan, the state’s term-limited Republican governor who leaves office on Jan. 18, spoke with Moore by phone around 8:15 Tuesday evening. The exchange was described as “warm.”

In a statement, Hogan said he offered Moore congratulations on his win. “There is no higher calling than public service, and no greater honor than to serve the people of this great state,” he said. “Our team is committed to ensuring a smooth and orderly transition to the next administration, and I look forward to meeting with the governor-elect in the coming days.”

Cox was gathering Tuesday with members of his family and supporters at a hotel in Annapolis.

When Moore launched his candidacy in 2021, four-term Comptroller Peter Franchot was considered most likely to win the Democratic nomination. The pair jockeyed for position in a large field that included several familiar political figures, including former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, former state Attorney General Doug Gansler, and former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. Dawn Moore’s work in the office of former Maryland Secretary of State John Willis and with Brown in the lieutenant governor’s office helped the couple establish connections with the state’s political leadership, but Wes Moore was untested as a political candidate.

He quickly established himself as a force on the campaign trail, using his dazzling resume, his ability to establish quick rapport with seemingly anyone, and his good looks to maximum advantage. (The former captain of the 82nd Airborne Division favored dress shirts that highlighted his muscular physique.) Moore and Miller carried the 10-candidate Democratic primary in July, winning 32% of the vote.

A native of Takoma Park who grew up largely in New York, Moore, after attending a military high school and college, studied at Johns Hopkins University and at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He also served as a White House fellow, worked on Wall Street, led a combat squadron in Afghanistan, wrote a best-selling book, and ran a national poverty-fighting non-profit.

He faced questions about whether his best-selling book, “The Other Wes Moore,” over-stated his ties to Maryland, and critics said he failed to correct interviewers who falsely said he won the Bronze Star. But Moore survived those challenges.

Confetti takes over the scene as supporters celebrated Democrat Wes Moore’s election as Maryland’s first Black governor Tuesday. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

He won endorsements from President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and a long list of prominent organizations — including unions representing teachers, police officers and laborers. That backing, along with endorsements from The Baltimore Sun and Washington Post, helped Moore out-fundraise Cox by a 10-to-1 margin.

Moore and Cox engaged in one debate, a testy encounter that aired on Maryland Public Television and two broadcast outlets. While the debate could have served as the starting gun for a more robust campaign, it did not. The two camps appeared to go on auto-pilot once it was over.

Cox workshopped various themes on the campaign trail — accusing Moore of being a free-spending socialist, referring to himself as a “civil rights attorney” — but he appeared unable (or unwilling) to engage in sustained outreach beyond his base. He was dogged by questions about whether he would accept the results of Tuesday’s balloting, and his convoluted answers reminded many that he’d promoted baseless allegations about the 2020 campaign, something many voters said was a turnoff.

Cox camp skeptical of early call

Addressing a crowded ballroom at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel in Annapolis just before 11 p.m. on Tuesday night, Cox acknowledged, “We’re at a point where it’s not looking good.” But he stopped short of conceding.

Cox asserted that only half of the Election Day votes had been tallied, and suggested that if he took between 60-65% of the outstanding votes, he could still prevail.

“It’s just a very possible situation with the votes that need to be counted,” he said.

Cox marveled at his vote on the Eastern Shore and in western Maryland, but admitted he was disappointed with the GOP performance in Baltimore County.

“I’m not going to lie to you – this is a difficult race,” he said. “…I’m not going to give you some false hopes to stay the rest of the night.”

But Cox thanked his volunteers, supporters and family.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox stopped short of conceding as he addressed supporters in Annapolis on election night. Photo by Josh Kurtz.

“No matter the outcome, there is no doubt that you made history,” he said.

The ballroom was only half full at around 8:10 p.m. when a big TV screen at the side of the room showed WJZ-TV in Baltimore reporting that the AP had called the race for Moore. No one seemed to notice.

Before long, a five-piece rock band with no name began overpowering the room with patriotic and religious songs. Matthew Jenkins, the guitarist and lead singer, predicted victory for Cox.

Coming off the stage 20 minutes later, Jenkins said he was unaware that the race had been called for Moore.

“We’ll see,” he said. “If nothing else, it’s good to be around good people.”

Gordana Schifanelli, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, entered the ballroom around 9:30 and began glancing at her phone for election results in between conversations with supporters. She told Maryland Matters that she was taking signs down from a polling place just after the polls closed at 8 p.m. when she heard that Moore had been declared the victor.

“How can they call it?” she recalled thinking. “I’m still here.”

“You can’t do that,” Schifanelli continued. “You have to wait until they report [the results]. It’s so silly. It destroys journalism.”

Addressing the crowd shortly after 10 p.m., Patience Faith Cox, the gubernatorial nominee’s daughter, also questioned the early calls for Moore.

“Don’t believe everything you read in the media,” she said, accusing news outlets of trying to validate earlier polls that showed Moore way ahead. “It’s a moment for the media to try and prove their fake polls that they made up.”

Most of the crowd left the ballroom shortly after Cox’s speech. Around 11 p.m., Moore said he hadn’t received a call from Cox conceding the race, but he also wasn’t waiting around for it.

Asked what he would say to Marylanders who didn’t vote for him, Moore responded: “I’m excited to be your governor too.”

Moore looks ahead to ‘mandate’

As revelers trickled from the party and TV crews packed up their cameras, Moore was looking forward to putting together an administration and setting priorities for governing in Annapolis. With Democrats maintaining their supermajorities in the General Assembly, they will now have full control of the State House for the first time since 2014.

In an interview, Moore said voters and legislators alike should plan for him to govern like he campaigned: hard, fast and with a focus on issues across the state.

Maryland Gov.-elect Wes Moore (D) speaks with reporters after his victory Tuesday night. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

“For the past year and a half, we’ve been talking to Marylanders about what their hopes are, and putting together very detailed plans about things that our administration would do if we were given the opportunity,” Moore said. “And now that they have given us the opportunity, I know that we are ready to produce, we are ready to perform, we’re ready to move in partnership with Marylanders to address these issues.

In remarks Tuesday night, Moore said the Moore-Miller administration’s policy agenda includes shoring up reproductive health rights, expanding broadband and economic opportunities, improving public safety and building up the state’s public education system. He also promised that Maryland would be the first state in the country to have a “service-year” option for every high school graduate, to build a spirit of service in the state.

“The thing that I’m really excited about is, I want to make sure that our long-term legacy is not that I have made history,” Moore said. “I want that to be something that gets brought up after people talk about the other things that we accomplished as the governor of the state of Maryland. And then the final thing they say is ‘Oh, and by the way, he was the first Black governor.’”

William J. Ford contributed to this report.