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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Potential Cox candidacy complicates GOP picture for Maryland governor race

Maryland Del. Daniel Cox, R-Frederick and Carroll counties, applauds during the first day of the state's 2021 legislative session, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Maryland Del. Daniel Cox, R-Frederick and Carroll counties, applauds during the first day of the state’s 2021 legislative session, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Annapolis. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Maryland Republicans hoping for an unprecedented third consecutive term controlling the governor’s mansion will have to contend with the potential for a deeply divisive primary.

A filing by Del. Dan Cox, R-Carroll and Frederick, is a signal that the vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump could be entering his party’s primary for governor, resulting in a potentially bitter primary with presumptive Republican frontrunner Kelly Schulz.

Cox, who is finishing his first term in the House, filed updated papers Monday with the Maryland State Board of Elections indicating that he was raising money for a bid for his party’s gubernatorial nomination.

As a delegate, Cox has drawn attention to himself over the last year first by representing a number of businesses and churches who unsuccessfully sued Gov. Larry Hogan in federal court over his pandemic orders that closed businesses. Cox took on the governor again during the session, sponsoring legislation — that did not pass — which would have limited executive authority regarding states of emergency.

The delegate also found himself apologizing in writing to his fellow lawmakers for calling Republican Vice President Mike Pence “a traitor” on the afternoon of the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. He later deleted his Twitter account.

Cox, a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, organized two buses of supporters to D.C. for that rally but has maintained he did not participate in the storming of the Capitol building.

“You have Schulz, who is a very great pick and successor to Larry Hogan, really good ambassador for his brand,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “You’ve got a midterm election coming up. You’re going to have a Democratic president, Democrats in control of everything. That usually bodes well for the party out of power, and imagine if Democrats were to nominate someone in the left-hand lane of the party then Maryland voters could say, ‘Look, we’ve enjoyed having Larry Hogan, he’s got high approval ratings. This person is from his administration, let’s continue down this path. We’ll have a check with a Democratic legislature.’

“But if you have some sort of primary civil war in the Republican Party in the state, reminding voters of that Trump contingent, worrying them that the Republican nominee may somehow be beholden to that, that’s just bad for a party trying to achieve a third term in a state that doesn’t often elect Republicans statewide.”

 

Cox has not officially filed, according to Maryland State Board of Elections records, nor has he made an announcement about his plans. The delegate, who is an attorney in Frederick, also did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

The deadline to file as a candidate is Feb. 23.

Cox, should he enter the race, would join Schulz, a former delegate from Frederick county who is currently state commerce secretary, and Robin Ficker, a Montgomery County attorney and political gadfly who also served in the House of Delegates. Both have already publicly declared their candidacies though not officially filed.

Schulz is seen as a presumptive frontrunner who appears to be attempting to become heir to Gov. Larry Hogan’s purple bipartisan mantle.

Hogan’s popularity — with poll numbers typically in the 60s and 70s since he was elected — seems to stem more from a personal connection with the electorate and his own brand of Republican politics. In 2018, Democratic voters flocked to the polls to turn out incumbent Republicans across the state but gave Hogan a second term instead of electing Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous, a progressive candidate with no electoral experience.

“In 2018 you had a situation where Donald Trump was immensely unpopular in the state of Maryland. He worked to really motivate Democrats and Independents to the polls to send a message against him,” said Eberly. “Larry Hogan constructed a bubble around himself that completely inoculated himself from Trump, and he benefited from the fact that Democrats did not nominate the most competent of campaigners in Ben Jealous. There’s no way of being able to say that magic will happen again.”

In some ways, 2022 was shaping up to look a lot like 2018, with a candidate field quickly approaching double digits, which raises the possibility that voters to the left in the Democratic Party might again nominate a progressive candidate who enjoys a plurality of support but not a majority mandate. Such a candidate could make a Republican who can attach themselves to Hogan’s brand much more attractive to moderate independents and Democrats.

The ability of Schulz or any Republican to assume Hogan’s brand “is completely untested,” said Eberly.

A Cox campaign could create problems for Schulz if he can muster significant support from far-right supporters who tend to vote heavily in primaries.

“That’s the great challenge for the party moving forward is that you have to worry about the most committed members of your base who turnout in disproportionate numbers in primaries and you have to worry about them nominating candidates who have absolutely zero chance of winning statewide,” said Eberly. “That’s the thing about true believers. Reality doesn’t enter into their thinking anywhere. They vote solely on what they think is right and convince themselves that somehow they can win but they won’t.”

There is also a question of whether a Cox candidacy would draw attention and fundraising help from Trump or others associated with the former president’s wing of the party.

The mere fact that Cox has signaled a move to raise money has already drawn the attention of some Democrats.

“The governor’s mansion in Maryland is no place for an organizer of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol,” said John King, a Democrat who has declared as a candidate for governor. “We simply cannot risk having a QAnon conspiracist who decries public health measures, promotes the Big Lie and helped promote an insurrection leading our state. Maryland is better than Delegate Cox.”

The Democratic Governors Association Wednesday joined in, thumping Schulz for refusing to repudiate Trump or Cox.

 

 

 

 

 


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