SILVER SPRING, Md. — Tuesday’s primary elections for Maryland governor come at moment when Democrats are jittery, unsure of the long run and maybe willing to bet on a flashy, unproven commodity.
That might be an actual problem for Tom Perez.
As he did in early 2017, when he won a contest amongst party insiders on the dawn of the Trump era to change into chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Perez is pitching himself because the protected establishment selection.
But polling within the Democratic race for governor shows a dead heat between Mr. Perez and Wes Moore, a best-selling creator, television show host and nonprofit executive who has been endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. Peter Franchot, the state comptroller and a fixture of Maryland politics for the reason that Eighties, is close behind.
The race, like Maryland’s Republican primary for governor, will test voters’ appetites for competence and experience at a time when the bases of each parties are indignant at their political establishments.
Republicans will choose from Kelly Schulz, a former cabinet secretary for the departing Gov. Larry Hogan, who’s term-limited, and Dan Cox, a first-term state delegate who has been endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump and who wrote on Twitter through the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol that Vice President Mike Pence was a traitor.
Mr. Cox can also be one in a string of Republicans who’ve received help this yr from Democrats pursuing the hazardous strategy of attempting to elevate far-right G.O.P. primary candidates within the hope that they’re too extreme to win a general election. The Democratic Governors Association has spent $1.16 million on promoting attempting to lift his candidacy — greater than all of the Republicans combined have spent on TV and radio ads, in keeping with AdImpact, a media tracking firm.
While the Republican primary is a battle between Mr. Hogan’s center-right political operation and Mr. Trump’s far-right supporters, the Democratic primary has developed as a stylistic contest with few ideological differences: Mr. Perez’s awkward-dad competence, Mr. Moore’s charismatic dynamism and Mr. Franchot’s a long time of experience in state politics.
Democrats are desirous to win back the governorship of a deep-blue state that has been led by a Republican, Mr. Hogan, since 2015. At the identical time, Democrats hold veto-proof majorities in each chambers of Maryland’s General Assembly which can be likely to face up to even a powerful Republican showing in November because of the state’s gerrymandered districts.
Neither party’s primary has garnered the nine-figure sums spent on television and radio promoting in other states’ races. Mr. Perez and a brilliant PAC supporting him have combined to spend $3.5 million — greater than another candidate within the governor’s race.
Mr. Perez has highlighted his years working within the Justice Department and as labor secretary under former President Barack Obama. In his TV ads — considered one of which uses Mr. Obama’s voice promoting Mr. Perez — he describes himself because the candidate from the “get stuff done” wing of the party, though he uses a more pungent noun than “stuff.”
In an interview on Thursday at an early-voting site in Silver Spring, an inside-the-Beltway suburb, Mr. Perez said Democrats could be taking an enormous risk in the final election in the event that they nominated Mr. Moore.
“I’ve been Senate-confirmed twice,” Mr. Perez said. “I’ve run for office twice. I’ve been vetted for vice chairman in 2016. I won’t spend the general-election campaign explaining something that I did previously or that I didn’t do previously.”
Mr. Perez was referring to the proven fact that elements of Mr. Moore’s inspiring personal story have been challenged.
A Rhodes scholar and a veteran of the Afghanistan war, Mr. Moore has placed his biography at the middle of his campaign. He wrote a best-selling book that was promoted by Ms. Winfrey, who later gave him a show on her cable channel.
And he has sometimes not corrected interviewers who made flattering mistakes about his résumé, including one who said he had been inducted right into a Maryland hall of fame for football (an establishment that doesn’t exist) and a minimum of two others who described him as a Bronze Star recipient (he will not be).
Brian Jones, an aide to Mr. Moore, said the candidate had never given any false impressions about his record. He declined requests to make Mr. Moore available for an interview.
“Wes Moore has absolutely nothing to exaggerate, he has absolutely nothing to regret, and anyone suggesting otherwise ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Mr. Jones said.
There, in 2018, questions were raised in regards to the amount of time beyond regulation Mr. Moore’s executive assistant was accumulating. The assistant, Maria Flynn, wrote a memo, reviewed by The Latest York Times, stating that Mr. Moore had “required” her to perform a litany of private tasks for him, including booking Amtrak tickets for Mr. Moore’s nanny and scheduling, negotiating and drafting contracts for his many paid speaking engagements.
Ms. Flynn was fired every week after submitting her memo.
Robin Hood investigated Ms. Flynn’s allegations. In accordance with an internal report reviewed by The Times, Mr. Moore told Robin Hood that he had asked Ms. Flynn to not submit for time beyond regulation pay for private work she did for him outside the hours she worked for the organization and had as a substitute “personally compensated” her with an unspecified quarterly bonus.
The investigation ultimately concluded that Ms. Flynn’s termination was justified because she had filed excessive time beyond regulation hours with Robin Hood and had improperly “migrated files to her personal email account.”
A separation contract she signed stipulated that Robin Hood would pay her $23,925 — three months’ pay and advantages — if she agreed to not sue the group or speak sick of her experience working there for Mr. Moore.
Ms. Flynn said she couldn’t discuss her tenure working for Mr. Moore because she signed a nondisclosure agreement upon her dismissal.
“I didn’t have the cash to rent a lawyer,” she said. “I wasn’t capable of fight.”
A Robin Hood spokesman, Kevin F. Thompson, declined to debate Ms. Flynn’s specific claims or the inner documents.
“We take all worker misconduct allegations seriously, and we never had cause to take any disciplinary actions against Wes Moore,” he said.
Mr. Jones, the aide to Mr. Moore, said the claims in Ms. Flynn’s memo were false and said they’d surfaced through “flimsy opposition research” by Mr. Moore’s political opponents.
The third major candidate within the Democratic primary, Mr. Franchot, said in an interview on Friday that his long profession in Maryland politics could be invaluable in addressing voters’ concerns about inflation and high gas prices.
“Persons are in search of a gradual hand on the helm, any individual that has had experience, obviously knowledgeable in regards to the state’s economy,” said Mr. Franchot, who was first elected comptroller in 2006 and served within the General Assembly for 20 years before that. “I’m the person who’s been on the stage for the last 16 years.”
Republican voters face a unique variety of decision — whether fealty to Mr. Trump and lies in regards to the 2020 election carry more political weight than Mr. Hogan, a two-term governor who forged himself as a check against excesses of Democratic supermajorities.
Ms. Schulz, a former state delegate who spent nearly seven years in Mr. Hogan’s cabinet, has adopted the governor’s mantra and is betting on their political alliance. She would most definitely be a formidable candidate in the final election. Mr. Hogan stays considered one of the nation’s hottest governors, and while the state has greater than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, it has elected just one Democrat, Martin O’Malley, as governor for the reason that turn of the millennium.
“She understands the nuance of what you will have to do to win as a Republican in Maryland,” said Mileah Kromer, a pollster at Goucher College in Towson, Md.
Ms. Schulz predicted that Mr. Cox would lose the final election by 30 percentage points to any of the Democrats running.
“I don’t think there’s a single person on the market within the state of Maryland that truly believes that Dan Cox can beat a Democrat in November,” she said in an interview, calling Mr. Cox an “out-of-control conspiracy-theorist-type person.”
Mr. Cox’s campaign manager, his daughter Patience Faith Cox, didn’t reply to requests for comment.
The Democratic Governors Association agrees with Ms. Schulz’s assessment. It has essentially fueled Mr. Cox’s entire ad campaign. Mr. Cox has spent just $21,000 on television and radio ads, yet polls show him tied with or leading Ms. Schulz.
Mr. Cox has been a prolific amplifier of pro-Trump conspiracy theories in regards to the 2020 election. In December 2020, he wrote on Facebook that Mr. Trump should use the federal government to “seize federal vote machines in states where fraud is exceedingly rampant.”
He chartered three buses from his home base in Frederick County to the Jan. 6, 2021, rally to protest the election results. That day, after the mob had breached the Capitol amid chants of “Hang Mike Pence,” Mr. Cox tweeted, “Pence is a traitor.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s primary, Mr. Cox has threatened lawsuits searching for to invalidate mail-in ballots and warned without evidence that “there have been mules in Maryland” illegally stuffing ballot drop boxes, a reference to a Trump-promoted film that makes false claims about voter fraud within the 2020 election.
The counting of absentee ballots is anticipated to last for days after Tuesday’s vote. Maryland law forbids the processing and counting of ballots returned in drop boxes or by mail until Thursday, and aides for several candidates have warned that the winners in each primary might not be known until late within the week.
Delegate Ric Metzgar, a Republican who’s backing Mr. Cox, said that Mr. Hogan had alienated the party’s base by breaking with Mr. Trump and that Ms. Schulz had did not present herself as anything beyond an extension of Mr. Hogan’s administration.
“There’s not many Republicans supporting him at this moment, he’s distanced himself to this point away from Trump,” Mr. Metzgar said. “You’ll be able to’t ride coattails if there’s no coattails to hold on to.”