Wes Moore, a first-time candidate for elected office who built an energetic campaign against a crowded and robust field, has won the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor.
A bestselling author and former nonprofit leader, Moore defeated former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez as mail-in ballots were being tallied Friday, according to The Associated Press, but after Moore won significantly more in-person votes earlier in the week.
Longtime state Comptroller Peter Franchot conceded the race earlier on Friday, and Perez followed on Saturday afternoon with a statement congratulating Moore and saying, “Now is the time for us to unite.”
Moore will face Del. Dan Cox, who won his competitive primary earlier this week, in the general election. If he wins in November, Moore would become the first Black governor in Maryland’s history.
Political observers say Moore has a strong chance against Cox, a conservative Republican endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Moderate Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who supported former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz in their party’s primary, has called Cox a “conspiracy-theory-believing QAnon whack-job.”
“I think there’s no race at all. I think Wes Moore is going to be the new governor,” Hogan said Friday.
Moore’s team had projected confidence since the initial returns Tuesday showed he led the crowded Democratic ballot with about 37% of the vote. Perez was next at 27% and Franchot followed at 20%.
Those margins narrowed Thursday and Friday after election officials began counting hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots. The latest figures as of 11:15 p.m. Friday show Moore with 169,961 votes, or 34% of the total counted.
Perez, at 28% was down by about 27,000 votes. Campaign manager Sean Downey said on Twitter earlier Friday that they were “incredibly encouraged” by the initial mail-in returns. Most of those ballots were from Montgomery County, Perez’s home base and the largest pool of votes in the state, and they had not yet all been counted.
More votes from Montgomery County updated Friday night showed Perez continued to dominate in the area, winning 46% of the vote there compared to Moore’s 21%. But the call from The Associated Press, issued just before 11 p.m., indicated Perez would still be unable to reach Moore as the counting continued.
In his statement, Perez, also the former Democratic National Committee chair, called Cox “an extreme right-wing, QAnon conspiracy theory peddling insurrectionist.” He said the stakes in the November election have never been higher because a “radicalized Supreme Court” has made states “the last bastion of our civil rights.”
Franchot, who held a slight lead over the rest of the field in polling throughout the primary campaign, had almost 22% of the total vote, or about 108,000 tallies, as of the latest numbers.
Franchot, in his concession statement Friday, congratulated Moore and said he would support him in the general election campaign.
Moore, 43, of Baltimore, is a Johns Hopkins University graduate and Rhodes scholar who also served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and worked in investment banking at Citibank. He’s known for his book, “The Other Wes Moore,” which followed both his life and that of a Baltimore man with the same name who ended up in prison.
He stepped down as CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, a large nonprofit that fights poverty, in 2021 before launching his campaign. It became a juggernaut for fundraising and endorsements in a race that featured several prominent state and national figures.
Both before and after Moore was declared the winner, Cox sent two fundraising emails to supporters Friday targeting the Democrat. In a potential preview of the general election campaign to come, Cox referred to Moore as a “socialist” who asked guests at a recent even to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. One of Cox’s main campaign themes in the primary was railing against all pandemic mediation measures, including vaccine and mask mandates.
“It is clear: Moore is LESS for Maryland,” Cox wrote in one of the emails.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Some of Moore’s supporters, who in the primary ranged from Maryland General Assembly leaders to U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, started congratulating him on social media throughout the day Friday as some television networks began projecting his win.
The Democratic Governors Association, a national group that independently spends to help elect Democrats across the country, also released a statement Friday saying they will support him.
“Wes knows how to overcome hardships and deliver real results,” DGA Chair Gov. Roy Cooper, of North Carolina, said in the statement. “Now, he’s running on a bold vision to build an economy where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and ensure every child has access to a world-class public education.”
Nearly 638,000 Maryland voters cast ballots in person. Another 509,000 voters requested a mail-in ballot, which they had to turn in by 8 p.m. Tuesday. As of Friday night, the state elections board reported receiving about 268,000 of those, with more expected to arrive by mail in the next several days. They’ll be counted as long as they were postmarked by the deadline.
As of primary day, the Democratic field had nine candidates. All but Moore and Perez have conceded: Franchot; Jon Baron, a nonprofit executive; former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler; Ashwani Jain, a former Obama White House official; John. B. King, who was education secretary in the Obama administration; Jerome M. Segal, an author and founder of the socialist Bread and Roses Party, and teacher Ralph Jaffe. Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker dropped out in June but remained on the ballot.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Darcy Costello contributed to this article.