Votes in closely-watched Democratic and Republican primary races for Maryland governor are being counted — and with hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots still uncounted — The Associated Press called the Republican contest for Trump-backed Republican Del. Dan Cox.
In early vote totals, Cox had opened a wide lead over Kelly Schulz, the hand-picked successor of popular outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
On the Democratic side, political newcomer Wes Moore was comfortably leading a crowded field of Democrats.
It could be days before the final results are known.
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Maryland elections officials cannot start counting the over 200,000 mail-in ballots received from voters until Thursday morning, meaning it’s possible the outcome of these races won’t be known for several days or even weeks.
On the Republican side, totals from early voting and in-person voting on primary day showed Cox opening a wide lead over moderate Republican Kelly Schulz — 56% to 40%.
Cox, a first-term delegate, has blasted what he calls “divisive Marxist teaching” in schools and unsuccessfully sought to impeach Hogan over his handling of COVID-19 closures.
The AP called the race for Cox shortly after 11 p.m.
Schulz is the former Maryland Commerce secretary, who won the full-throated endorsement of Hogan, who has called Cox a “QAnon whack job” and a “crazy guy.”
Cox, who has frequently trumpeted his Trump endorsement, attended the Jan. 6 rally on the White House Ellipse immediately preceding the riot at the U.S. Capitol and tweeted, “Mike Pence is a traitor” around the time the mob was breaking in to disrupt the counting of electoral votes. (Cox later issued a statement saying he denounces violence.)
In an address at an election night party at about 10:30 p.m., before the AP called the race, Schulz told supporters, though she trailed Cox, “It is not over by a long shot,” according to reporting from Maryland Matters’ Danielle E. Gaines.
While there are still at least 213,000 mail-in ballots statewide that have yet to be counted, only 38,000 of those are Republican ballots, according to Maryland State Board of Elections data.
Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in the state by 2 to 1, but Hogan easily won a second term in 2018 and has remained popular over the course of his eight years in office.
Schulz’s defeat, however, is a stunning defeat for Hogan, who was said to be considering a 2024 presidential run.
On the Democratic side, unofficial voting totals shortly before midnight — which doesn’t include any mail-in ballot — provided a snapshot of where things stand.
The three leading Democratic candidates are political newcomer author and nonprofit CEO Wes Moore with just under 37% of the vote; former U.S. Labor Secretary and Democratic Party head Tom Perez with 27% of the vote; and longtime Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot trailing at about 20% of the vote.
“We won’t have results for a couple days, but we’re starting to see early contours of the race,” said Maryland Matters Senior Reporter Bruce DePuyt, who was at Franchot’s primary night party in Bowie, Maryland.
He added, “it’s a great night, so far, for Wes Moore. He is doing extremely well in Prince George’s County.”
Moore, who wrote a bestselling 2010 book “The Other Wes Moore” and worked as CEO of the poverty-fighting organization the Robin Hood Foundation, has been endorsed by a slew of political heavyweights in Maryland politics — as well as media mogul Oprah Winfrey.
Perez on the hand is showing strength in Montgomery County, the state’s most populous county, DePuyt said.
Perez is a former Montgomery County council member and was endorsed by The Washington Post.
“Peter Franchot is trailing and he’s got some ground to make up,” DePuyt said on WTOP.
Franchot, who served as state tax collector for 15 years has, for years, been one of the recognizable statewide Democratic officeholders.
Speaking to his supporters Thursday night, Franchot said the vote that had been counted so far accounted for only a “sliver of the votes,” DePuyt reported on Twitter. Once the mail-in ballots are counted, he said the race would look much different.
In the Democratic race, the large field of candidates largely found themselves in agreement on big-picture items — such as the need to secure funding for a massive, multibillion-dollar plan for the future of education in the state, including universal pre-K, as well as efforts to ensure accountability for police misconduct while also dealing with a rise in crime.
At the lone televised debate last month, Democratic candidates traded barbs and sought to differentiate themselves.
Moore, who has faced criticism over exaggerating his early connections to Baltimore, has accused Franchot, the state’s top tax collector, of taking donations from companies with business before the Maryland Board of Public Works.
The other Democratic candidates include former U.S. Education Secretary John King; former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler; former Obama White House staffer Ashwani Jain; former Clinton administration official Jon Baron; retired teacher Ralph Jaffe and philosopher and perennial candidate Jerome Segal.
Former Del. Robin Ficker, an anti-tax advocate who has successfully placed several local ballot initiatives in Montgomery County, and attorney Joe Werner both trailed in the Republican race.
Ahead of Tuesday’s primary, nearly 500,000 Maryland voters requested mail-in ballots, and the State Board of Elections had received a total of over 213,000 as of Monday. In order for mail-in ballots to count, they needed to be postmarked or placed in a ballot drop-off box by 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Final certification of the election will take place the week of Aug. 8.
The Maryland General Assembly approved legislation this spring that would have allowed local boards of elections to count mail-in ballots early, but Hogan vetoed the measure, saying it lacked election security measures such as signature verification for mail-in ballots.