Del. Dan Cox defeated former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz to win the Republican nomination for governor in a competitive race that pitted two sides of the GOP against each other.
Cox, endorsed by former President Donald Trump, was leading Schulz, who was Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s hand-picked successor 56% to 40% when The Associated Press called the race just after 11 p.m.
In the Democratic primary, early voting returns and initial batches of in-person votes from Tuesday’s primary day showed former nonprofit leader Wes Moore ahead of the crowded nine-person field, followed by former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez and state Comptroller Peter Franchot. A large pool of still-uncounted mail-in ballots could make a difference in that race.
Schulz spoke to her supporters at her primary night event in Annapolis around 10:30 p.m., urging caution, before the race was called.
“As all of you know, right now, we are behind in this race. But it is not over,” Schulz said. “The fact is that all of the votes won’t be counted until Thursday. We knew this. We knew this going into today.”
The ballots Schulz referred to cannot be opened until 10 a.m. Thursday, under state law. About 38,300 Republicans had returned mail-in ballots by Tuesday, and more mailed by 8 p.m. on primary day were likely to arrive, according to the State Board of Elections.
But the early voting and in-person primary day returns indicated Schulz would likely not be able to catch up with those mail-in ballots. Cox maintained a nearly 36,000-vote lead, according to the returns reported by the end of the night Tuesday.
“In America, and in Maryland, we count every vote. Every single one of them,” Schulz said.
Schulz’s campaign spokesman declined to comment further after the race was called for Cox.
At least 385,000 voters cast ballots before polls opened — either during in-person early voting or by returning mail-in ballots, according to the state elections board.
The process of opening and scanning mail-in ballots, which became popular with voters during the pandemic, is expected to take days, and in some cases weeks.
That left the leading Democratic candidates and their supporters bracing Tuesday night for a lengthy wait, although they also sought to project confidence.
“While we believe in counting every vote, I can tell you because of the hard work of everybody here, we are excited for all those votes to be counted. Because when those votes are counted, we feel very good about where we’re going to be,” Moore said.
As of midnight Tuesday, Moore led with 37% compared with Perez’s 27% and Franchot’s 20%.
About 169,000 mail-in ballots from Democrats had not yet been counted as the returns showed Moore with 125,700 votes, Perez with 93,000 and Franchot with 68,800 by the end of Tuesday.
“I continue to be exceedingly optimistic,” Perez said to a chant of “Let’s go, Tom” at his primary night celebration in Bethesda. He expressed confidence that Montgomery County, where he’s from, could deliver at least 50,000 additional votes. The latest data from the state showed 29,000 of those ballots had been returned.
Former U.S. Department of Education Secretary John B. King, who was among the leading fundraisers and spenders in the Democratic field, conceded at his primary night party. Former Clinton White House official Jon Baron also dropped out, acknowledging he will not be the nominee.
In another contested race — the 1st Congressional District Democratic primary — former state Del. Heather Mizeur defeated former foreign service officer R. David Harden to face Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Harris in November. Mizeur led Harden 69% to 31% as of 11 p.m.
The governor’s race, the highest-profile contest facing voters this year, culminated in an unusually large field of well-funded candidates who boasted significant political resumes.
Together they spent millions getting their messages out to voters — focusing on rising crime, the economy and education for more than a year while abortion, guns and the environment became focal points in the final weeks after new U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
By the time polls closed Tuesday, candidates were surrounding themselves with supporters and staff, waiting eagerly to see if their work would pay off.
Moore, a first-time candidate who became the premier fundraiser and attraction for endorsements among Maryland Democrats, was in Baltimore, where supporters were eating hors d’oeuvres while MSNBC played on a projector.
“I’m thinking tonight, without counting the mail-in ballots and things like that, I think we’re going to leave out of here feeling pretty good,” Moore supporter Daniel Jordan, 65, of Upper Marlboro, said at the candidate’s primary night party at R. House in Remington.
Jordan, who said his wife has known Moore for years, said he supported Moore partially because of his career experience, particularly in the nonprofit world and in the military.
Supporters of Perez, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and Montgomery County councilman in addition to his time in the Obama administration, packed a sweaty rooftop of a Bethesda sports bar an hour after polls closed.
Travis Sneed, the brother-in-law of Shannon Sneed, Perez’s running mate, said he feels positive about the eventual outcome, despite the wait for returns.
“Patience is key. I think they’ll push through,” Travis Sneed said of the anticipated day or weeklong wait for election returns. “I’m treating it like my stocks. I don’t look every day.”
At Franchot’s event in Bowie, supporters gathered around a television showing returns while the four-term state official mingled with the crowd.
Julian Min, a Baltimore Police Department homicide detective and Franchot supporter, said he’d volunteered for Franchot and appreciated how the comptroller sought input from the Asian American community, including the Korean Society of Baltimore. Min is the president of that group.
“He’s just out there,” Min, 50, said of Franchot’s approach to campaigning. “He came to us.”
Cox, whose grassroots campaign was primarily run by him and his family members, was in Frederick County, both his and Schulz’s hometown, while she was in Annapolis.
Hogan did not join her, but was in Aspen, Colorado, at a Republican Governors Association event. The Baltimore Sun reached out to a Hogan spokesman for comment but did not hear back.
At a fire and rescue company meeting hall in Emmitsburg, Cox thanked former President Donald Trump as he told a crowd of several hundred supporters that he was winning an hour after the polls closed and returns showed him ahead.
Cox has embraced election fraud theories spread by Trump in 2020, filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn pandemic restrictions in Maryland and also mounted a failed effort in the General Assembly to impeach Hogan.
Kevin Olkowski, 23, a graduate student in accounting at Towson University, said at Schulz’s party that neither campaign did a good job in getting through to people that there was an election in the middle of the summer.
”I know people within the last week or two that didn’t have a clue who was running for governor,” Olkowski said.
All the candidates had spent the day talking to voters at polling locations, where signs pointed to potentially lower turnout than in past years.
Foot traffic was light at many polling places, although voters like Joel Evans, a Randallstown resident and student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said they were eager to cast ballots in person, instead of by mail. Evans cast his ballot at Liberty Senior Center in Randallstown.
“Voting in person is more important than just mailing in because when you come in, people are seeing you vote. It’s not behind closed doors,” Evans, 21, said. “If people see you do it, then they will most likely do it, as well.”
Issues, including abortion rights and education, motivated some voters who arrived early Tuesday at polling places. Dawn Fuller, 57, a government contractor and Catonsville resident, said abortion rights were at the forefront of her mind. Though access to abortions appears secure in Maryland, she remained concerned about laws restricting them elsewhere as she cast her ballot at Woodbridge Elementary School.
“You don’t really know,” Fuller said. “I mean, unless you go out and vote for the people you think will stop doing that stuff.”
Also at Liberty Senior Center in Randallstown, Nadia Ankrah, a 33-year-old nurse and Randallstown resident, said her main concern this primary season was school safety, specifically school shootings.
“You don’t want to take your child to school and then be afraid, wonder, ‘Are they going to come back?’” Ankrah said.
At some polling locations, a shortage of election judges delayed their scheduled 7 a.m. openings or kept them understaffed throughout the day. Local elections directors warned for weeks that the primary — delayed by legal challenges to redistricting — was pushed into prime vacation time, thereby limiting their ability to recruit poll workers.
“It’s one of those situations where, ‘We told you so,’” said Baltimore City Elections Director Armstead Jones. “Everybody is short.”
Harford County Elections Director Stephanie Taylor said the county was more than 150 judges short of its goal of 742. Some polling sites were understaffed, but none was prevented from greeting voters, she said.
In Carroll County, some judges quit just hours ahead of precincts opening, though with a relatively low turnout, precincts were staffed adequately, said Katherine Berry, the county’s election director.
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Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the State Board of Elections, said the number of locations that had delays was “not a lot.”
Official turnout numbers will not be known for days, though political observers had predicted lower-than-usual numbers because of the delayed primary and because fewer people showed up for early voting compared with previous years.
During the last gubernatorial election, in 2018, 29% of Democrats and 22% of Republicans turned out in a primary in which Hogan was unopposed for his party’s nomination for a second term and Democrats had a competitive intraparty race to go up against him. Two years later, when the presidential election headlined the ballot, 42% of Maryland voters showed up for the primary.
This year, about 4.8% of the nearly 3.8 million eligible voters cast ballots during early voting. That was fewer than the 6.2% of voters who turned out for the same period in 2018, though some attributed the decline to the newfound interest in mail-in voting.
More than 500,000 voters requested mail-in ballots this year — far above the mere 30,000 who voted by mail ballot in 2018. More than 200,000 of those ballots were received by local boards of election by the end of the day Monday, according to state data. Not all of the remaining mail ballots will be returned, but those that are postmarked by July 19 and received by July 29 will be counted.
As the returns eventually come in, political observers expected the winning Democrat to garner as little as 30% of the vote — a factor of such a sprawling group of candidates in which no one was able to pull away with a significant lead. Only one major candidate, former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, dropped out after the filing deadline in April. His name remained on the ballot for Democratic voters, and early returns showed he had pulled in around 4% of the vote, more than King, Baron and former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler.
Baltimore Sun reporters Hannah Gaskill, Christine Condon, Darcy Costello, Jean Marbella, Lilly Price, Jeff Barker, Caitlyn Freeman, Scott Dance and Cassidy Jensen and Baltimore Sun Media reporters Dan Belson and Jason Fontelieu contributed to this article.