CRISFIELD — Candidates for governor came to the Eastern Shore on Wednesday to crack crabs and talk about their vision for the state’s economic future.
Republican Del. Dan Cox and Democrat Wes Moore made the election-year pilgrimage to Somerset County and the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake with roughly six weeks left until Election Day. Each brought ideas of how to best help Somerset County.
“People have been commenting, ‘It’s good to see you back here, you’ve been spending a lot of time here,’ ” Moore told reporters. “My answer is: Get used to it because that’s how I plan on governing. I’m going to be spending a lot of time out here.”
Somerset County is arguably the poorest county in the state. The county has the lowest median family and per capita income in the state. In August, the county reported an unemployment rate of 6.4%, the highest in Maryland.
“When we say we have a leave no one behind agenda, it means making sure we’re hitting every part of the state, spending time with people and not just hearing about the concerns and the hopes but also making sure we’re acting on it,” Moore said.
The contrast of the event and the economic challenges could not be more clear than at Somers Cove Marina, where attendees of the crab feast paid $75-$100 to attend. Across the street is the housing authority for the city and public housing units.
Not far away from Moore, Cox, the GOP gubernatorial nominee, held court in a tent of Eastern Shore Republicans. Signs of support for Cox in rural Maryland were not hard to find, but the one-term delegate who seeks to succeed outgoing Republican two-term Gov. Larry Hogan faces an uphill battle.
Cox was more than 20 points behind in a recent poll that also shows many voters will likely not consider voting for him because of his denial of 2020 presidential election results and his support of former President Donald Trump.
“Our tourism and waterman and farming industries are crucial to our economy,” Cox said. “If we could turn loose our tourism, our waterman industry and our farming industry, we will have an amazing growth in economic activity.”
Cox said he would focus on thinning regulations — a key platform of Hogan’s early first term. Cox, however, was not specific about which regulations were holding the state back.
Tawes, as it is known, began as a fundraiser for its namesake, a Crisfield Democrat who served as governor from 1959 to 1967. The event later became a fundraiser for the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce and has earned a reputation as being a must-attend in campaign years for candidates from all corners of the state.
An exact attendance figure wasn’t immediately available. Crowds seemed noticeably sparser than previous years. Some wondered if the timing — midweek in September as opposed to a late July Wednesday — had an effect.
The fall-like weather also felt a bit disorienting to those used to attending on the hottest of summer days as the sun cooked attendees from above and heat radiated from the blacktop. This year, long pants and sweatshirts were frequent fashion choices.
“It’s an unusually beautiful day,” Comptroller Peter Franchot said.
Others theorized the higher ticket price may have thinned crowds. Attendees ponied up $75-$100 to dine on steamed crabs and clams and fries and corn.
Oh, and the politics. The event still is the place for elected officials and candidates from across the state and political spectrum to see and be seen.
“It’s a reporter’s dream,” Hogan said, speaking to reporters. You just walk around and eat crabs. It’s a target-rich environment.”
For Hogan and Franchot, the event is likely their last as state elected officials.
“I’ll probably still come down from time to time,” Franchot said.
Hogan prides himself on being a veteran of the shore event going back to his teens. He confessed to “being a little nostalgic.”
“It’s not my last one, but it’s my last one as governor,” Hogan said.
The event is tailor-made for politicians like Hogan who enjoy the handshaking, baby-kissing aspects of retail politics. In the modern age, that also frequently includes stopping for photos every few feet. Attendees who left Tawes in the last nine years without a selfie with Hogan probably never asked him for one.
“Most people hate retail politics,” Hogan said. “I love it. I thrive on it. Even if I’m not running I’ll probably be running around shaking hands with people.