A new era of Maryland politics will come into focus Tuesday as voters make their final choices in several wide-open primary races that will set the stage for November’s general election.
Voters have a rare opportunity to select all new faces for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller as the incumbents are term-limited, retiring or running for higher office.
And with all 147 seats in the General Assembly, nearly every member of the U.S. Congress and several important local offices on the ballot, the stakes are high for policymaking on all levels.
The issues — according to interviews with voters, polls and candidate platforms — have been wide-ranging. Rising crime and inflation have been immediate, top-of-mind concerns for Marylanders all year. Education and transportation infrastructure dominated conversations about the state’s long-term prosperity. Abortion, guns and the environment, meanwhile, leapfrogged to the top of the list in recent weeks after a string of related U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
Jockeying to tackle all those issues in the governor’s mansion are nine Democrats and four Republicans — a crowded field of well-funded candidates with lengthy resumes who are hoping to succeed Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who will finish the second of his two four-year terms in January.
Polls have pointed to a neck-and-neck race on both sides.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez and former nonprofit leader Wes Moore lead a Democratic field looking to secure the party’s control of both the executive and legislative branches in Annapolis for the first time in eight years. Former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz and Del. Dan Cox, representing different factions of the Republican electorate, are fighting to continue Hogan’s legacy as a check on a General Assembly with a supermajority of Democrats.
Candidates and voters have seen multiple curveballs along the way.
Redistricting — the once-a-decade process in which all kinds of geographical boundaries are redrawn based on population changes — forced many people into new voting districts. Lawsuits and accusations of gerrymandering complicated that process, even delaying the primary itself, from June 28 to July 19.
Meanwhile, people who may have voted by mail for the first time at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 could choose to return to in-person voting, either voting early or on primary day, or cast a mail ballot.
About 6.3% of all eligible voters — mostly Democrats and Republicans in Maryland’s closed primary process — had voted by mail or through in-person early voting, according to state data updated through July 12.
Those numbers, by all accounts, appeared sluggish, considering 29% of registered Democrats and 22% of Republicans turned out in the last gubernatorial primary in 2018. Hogan was unopposed in the primary that year, while Democrats faced a more heated contest in selecting their nominee. In the 2020 presidential primary, 42% of Maryland voters cast ballots.
If in-person voting also remains low on primary day, all eyes will turn to the remaining mail-in ballots, which election workers can’t begin counting until 10 a.m. Thursday. Just about 500,000 people requested mail-in ballots. So, with the 138,000 already returned, there could be hundreds of thousands more that voters either mail or place in drop boxes by the time polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Though the State Board of Elections reported a few thousand voters had received incorrect mail-in ballots in June, such issues were not widespread.
In the highest-profile race of the year, advertisements have flooded the airwaves, fundraising dollars have poured in and the candidates have traded barbs for months.
Franchot was the first candidate to jump in the race, announcing in January 2020 that he would forgo trying to win a fifth four-year term as comptroller and instead seek the governorship.
Eleven Democrats joined him, though Baltimore-based entrepreneur Mike Rosenbaum dropped out in December 2021 and former Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman left the field before a candidate deadline in April. Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, the runner-up in the last gubernatorial primary, quit in June after he struggled to keep up with fundraising. His name will still appear on the ballot.
The remaining field includes Moore, Perez, former U.S. Education Secretary John King, former state Attorney General Doug Gansler, former Clinton White House official Jon Baron, former Obama White House official Ashwani Jain, former registered socialist Jerome Segal and educator Ralph Jaffe.
Months of campaigning, stump speeches and debates and forums stretching back to last year revealed the Democrats largely agree on how to address major issues like crime, education, transportation and the environment. But they’ve differed on some specific plans, and some animosities have boiled to the surface.
In April, Moore’s campaign filed a complaint with state elections officials about a political dossier circulating behind the scenes that accused him of intentionally encouraging a false perception of childhood ties to Baltimore. Then, in an early June debate, Moore targeted Franchot’s integrity over accepting campaign donations from companies that received state contracts while Franchot served on the Board of Public Works, which approves such spending. Also, Moore and Perez traded barbs over their records of public service, while King went after Moore for his involvement in an online for-profit college.
The attacks have been even sharper on the Republican side, where Hogan has supported Schulz, who he appointed to two cabinet positions over his two terms, while criticizing Cox as a “conspiracy-theory-believing QAnon whack-job.”
A first-term legislator from Frederick County, Cox won the endorsement of former President Donald Trump after supporting Trump’s false claims of election fraud in 2020 and attending the Jan. 6 rally outside the White House before the attack on the Capitol. Cox’s campaign has focused on eliminating COVID-19 pandemic measures, outlawing abortion, limiting gun control laws and targeting transgender issues in schools.
Schulz has called those positions unelectable in a November race against a Democratic nominee, in which the winner will need the support of some Democrats and moderate Republicans. Her campaign has largely focused on giving parents more control over their children’s education, reducing crime and repealing a state law that links the gas tax to inflation — which she dubbed the “inflation tax.”
Former lawyer and lower-tax advocate Robin Ficker, a frequent candidate for office, and lawyer Joe Werner are also on Republican ballots.
Schulz is seeking to become the first woman elected governor in Maryland, which has also never elected a Black or Hispanic candidate to the office.
Attorney General Brian Frosh announced in October that he would not seek a third term, capping a 35-year career in Maryland politics.
Before he became the state’s top prosecutor, Frosh spent 20 years in the state Senate — 12 as the chair of the chamber’s Judicial Proceedings Committee — and eight years in the House of Delegates.
Upon his announcement, the political scene was atwitter about who would offer themselves as a replacement. The Democratic Party floated Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr. and U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown as potential candidates.
Smith decided to sit the race out, opting to campaign to keep his seat in the Senate, while Brown announced his candidacy four days after Frosh said he would not seek reelection.
In a surprising twist, Baltimore District Judge Katie Curran O’Malley decided to enter the race in late November against Brown, who served as lieutenant governor during the gubernatorial administration of her husband, Martin O’Malley.
Either candidate would be a historic first, as either the first Black person or woman to hold the office. Curran O’Malley could also become one of the first women directly elected statewide in Maryland to a state-level post.
Recent polls have shown the race is close.
Starting from nothing, Curran O’Malley gave Brown a literal run for his money when campaign finance reports were filed in January. She reported being just $1,200 shy of Brown’s cash on hand.
The pair have sparred over who has the most relevant experience for the job in candidate forums and, most recently, TV ads.
The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face off against the winner of the Republican race, where attorney Jim Shalleck is running against Michael Anthony Peroutka.
Franchot is giving up the seat he has held for 15 years, opting to try his luck to be the Democrat candidate to replace Hogan.
Baltimore Del. Brooke E. Lierman and Bowie Mayor Tim Adams are vying over the now-vacant seat. The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face Republican Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who is unopposed for his party’s nomination.
History would be made if either Democrat comes out on top in November: Lierman could one of the first woman elected as comptroller and directly elected by voters to a state-level seat, while Adams would be Maryland’s first Black comptroller.
Lierman, an attorney, announced her candidacy in December 2020. She has received overwhelming support from members of the General Assembly and has been a fundraising machine, besting Adams when campaign finance reports came out in mid-June.
Adams, a Department of Defense contractor who announced his candidacy in March 2021, has run a largely self-funded campaign. According to his July 8 campaign finance report, Adams has lent his campaign $3.3 million.
While many voters remain undecided, recent polls show Lierman leading Adams ahead of the primary.
The race for Baltimore state’s attorney is a heated one.
Incumbent Democrat Marilyn Mosby was indicted by a federal grand jury in January and charged with two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements on loan applications to purchase properties in Florida.
Mosby has pleaded not guilty to the charges and, at first, requested that her trial be held ahead of the primary while calling the indictment a “political ploy” to disrupt her reelection campaign. She later requested, however, that the trial be postponed. It was moved from May 2 to Sept. 19.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local government officials.
U.S. District Judge Lydia Griggsby last month denied Mosby’s motion to dismiss the charges, although Mosby doubled down in a legal filing Monday on her arguments to dismiss. A hearing those issues is scheduled for Sept. 14.
Meanwhile, Mosby faces another court date as she prepares to try Keith Davis Jr. for the fifth time in a homicide case.
Last month, a judge ruled there was a “presumption of vindictiveness” based on the decision of Mosby’s office to charge Davis with attempted murder after he won a new trial in the unrelated murder case.
Also, Mosby has been accused twice of allegedly violating a gag order that prohibits her from publicly discussing the case. Mosby is set to appear in court in August to address those allegations.
Mosby is facing off against defense attorney Ivan J. Bates, who announced his candidacy in November, and former Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah.
In the campaign’s final month, Vignarajah faced reports of verbal abuse and harassment against former staff members and subordinates at the state attorney general’s office and the city prosecutor’s office when he worked for those agencies. Vignarajah’s political director Anthony McCarthy said the allegations were a “coordinated political effort.”
The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face former Assistant State’s Attorney Roya M. Hanna, who is running as an independent in the general election.