Democrats, who are seeking to win back the governor’s mansion after eight years under Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, are choosing from a crowded field of nine active candidates with a breadth of experience. Recent polling found Comptroller Peter Franchot, best-selling author and former nonprofit chief Wes Moore and former US labor secretary Tom Perez are in a statistical three-way tie with a large percentage of undecided voters.
Each Democrat casts himself as the most likely to prevail against political head winds that, nationwide, favor Republicans. Voters’ choices Tuesday could reflect whether the Democratic Party leans into its liberal wing and tries to flex its 2-to-1 registration advantage in the state — or seeks a more moderate approach.
Meet the candidates who want to be Maryland’s next governor
The Republican primary for governor presents voters with a choice between Kelly Schulz, a pragmatic conservative, and Del. Dan Cox, a “Make America Great Again” devotee, in a dynamic that has played out across the country as GOP voters decide in what direction to take their party. Schulz and Cox were running head-to-head in polling.
In both parties, voters worrying about crime, inflation, abortion and education could find a candidate eager to pitch how he or she could lead the state in a different direction.
Early Tuesday morning, a few polling spots in Baltimore and at least one in Clinton and another in Cheverly in Prince George’s County opened late or were closed. Some had technical problems, and others did not have a chief judge present, according to Joanne Antoine, who is with the watchdog group Common Cause. She said that the problems had been reported to election officials and that they were working to resolve them.
Some of the first voters at Dundalk High School in Baltimore County were surprised to learn that they were in the wrong place. Jeffrey Macneal, 72, was planning on voting for Republican gubernatorial candidate Schulz before work, but the high school was the second polling place where he struck out. The first location he thought was his polling place was closed.
Macneal steered toward the high school when he saw all the campaign signs — only to learn there that he is supposed to vote at a location he previously voted in more than a decade ago.
Alfredo Santiago, 54, of Dundalk, Md., said poll workers couldn’t find his name in the registration system at first before telling him his actual polling place was at a community center 10 minutes away. Despite the false start, Santiago was still eager to cast a ballot for Democratic candidate Wes Moore, since, he said, he believes in the former nonprofit executive’s inclusive messaging.
In Glen Burnie, Richard Knight, 71, a Vietnam veteran and retired penitentiary guard, was one of very few voters out when the polls opened at Point Pleasant Elementary School. A registered Democrat, he cast his vote for Franchot for governor. For Knight, crime is the biggest issue. He said he no longer travels into Baltimore to visit friends because he’s worried about the jump in crime and violence. Although he’s a lifelong Democrat, Knight isn’t wedded to voting for a Democrat in November. He said if Schulz gets the Republican nomination, he’ll vote for her.
“Hogan backed her, so I’ll go with her,” Knight said.
Another voter at the school, Jenny Hancock, wasn’t sure whom she would select as the Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate.
“I did a lot of research, but I was really on the fence,” said Hancock, 55. In the end she voted for Dan Cox.
“My only fear with him is that so many people won’t vote for him because they don’t like Trump, but I think he’s going to do more for the state,” she said. “Crime is my biggest concern. Hogan hasn’t done enough on that, and I think Cox will.”
As voters streamed into Bethesda Elementary School at a steady trickle, 68-year-old psychiatrist Philip Seibel wasn’t selective about which issues concerned him most — the environment, personal rights, “the insanity of the Republican Party,” to name a few of his concerns. But Seibel said a degree of pragmatism ultimately drew him to gubernatorial candidate, Tom Perez.
“I’m concerned about choosing the best candidate to further Democratic officeholders in state houses,” the Bethesda resident said. Perez “embodies a realistic progressivism, with experience and integrity. We know that who he says he is, he is.”
Perez, a top contender for Maryland’s competitive gubernatorial race and President Barack Obama’s secretary of labor, combines “the right policies for our very challenging times with a proven record of being able to accomplish things,” Seibel said. He said that when he saw Perez speak at a “political stop” at a friend’s home, he said he was particularly compelled by the candidate’s confidence and charisma.
“I felt like what I was seeing was what I would get,” Seibel said.
At Langley Park-McCormick Elementary, a heavily Latino and immigrant neighborhood, Lourdes Rodríguez, 68, said she voted for Deni Taveras, who is running for state delegate in District 47B, which includes the Langley Park neighborhood where Rodríguez has lived for five years.
Rodríguez said that she is concerned about housing rights and security and that Taveras has always been there to push landlords in several apartment complexes in Langley Park to address poor housing conditions and that Taveras has also been teaching tenants about their rights. That is why, Rodríguez said, she has always supported Taveras’s candidacy for her wherever she goes, she said.
“She is like a mother for our community,” Rodríguez said.
Voters will also elect nominees for a handful of competitive congressional races, choosing candidates who could determine whether those races are competitive in the fall. Also on the ballot are attorney general and comptroller — roles that have been exclusively held by Democrats for a half-century or more — and members of the General Assembly. In Montgomery County, they will also decide a competitive Democratic race for county executives that is likely to determine the winner in November.
Polls have found that voters have not closely focused on the race. Some observers blame the lack of attention on the effects of the pandemic, fatigue from national politics and confusion over the primary date, which was delayed three weeks because of a lawsuit over redistricting.
Results in close races are likely to come down to mail-in ballots.
With an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots cast this year — nearly 200,000 and climbing — it may take days or weeks to learn the winner of these and other key contests.
Hau Chu, Dana Hedgpeth, Joe Heim, Eva Herscowitz, and Vanessa Sanchez contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism