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Moore, Cox clash on crime, abortion and fitness for office

Republican Dan Cox and Democrat Wes Moore at Wednesday’s gubernatorial debate. (Michael Ciesielski Photography/,MPT)

OWINGS MILLS — Maryland’s two major party candidates for governor squared off in a debate that featured sharp exchanges between the nominees.

Del. Dan Cox, the Republican, and Wes Moore, the Democrat, talked about their positions on a wide range of issues. The candidates also threw sharp elbows at each other with each describing his rival as an extreme candidate.

The hour-long program taped Wednesday afternoon for broadcast later that night is likely the one and only time the public will see both men simultaneously showcase their differences.

“This can be Maryland’s moment,” Moore said at the open, touting the state’s potential.

Moore acknowledged concerns about public safety and inequities in earning potential, especially between whites and minorities.

Cox, in his opening remarks, opened with a focus on similar concerns but expressed support for individual liberties and parental rights before quickly focusing on what he said was Moore’s intention to “defund the police” and “centralize” education.

The debate got off to a fiery start, with Cox calling Moore a “phony” just minutes into the debate when both were asked about only participating in one debate.

“Truthfully, I decided to spend time with voters talking about issues they care about,” Moore said. “I’m eager to have this debate with my opponent, the fact that even Governor (Larry) Hogan said that he will not support his candidacy and called him unfit to lead I think is a clear indication to voters as to why I’ll spend my time talking to voters instead of on the debate stage.”

Cox wasted no time responding and dredging up criticisms about statements made in a book authored by Moore.

The book highlights Moore’s life and that of another man named Wes Moore. The other Moore was raised in Baltimore and was later sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Baltimore County Police Sgt. Bruce Prothero. But reports in April found Moore embellished his ties to Baltimore. Moore’s family lived in Takoma Park at the time of his birth and  lived later in the Bronx.

“When you look at the reason he won’t debate it’s because he’s a phony. There’s so many things in his book that are completely false. Look at the book. He claims he was raised in in Baltimore city but sir you weren’t there until you were 34.”

Early voting in Maryland begins in about two weeks. Election Day is Nov. 8. No other debates are scheduled, and Moore said he was uninterested in another.

“I’m good,” Moore told reporters after the debate. “Frankly, I’m standing on stage right now with an extremist election denier whose rhetoric and policies are not just dangerous and divisive but will take our state backwards,” Moore said.

Cox decried Moore’s comments as a violation of decorum.

“This is outrageous and ridiculous,” Cox said, speaking directly to Moore. “We are bigger than middle school name-calling, sir.”

Cox and Moore were asked about election integrity and accepting the final results.

“I have always accepted election results that are fair and follow the Constitution,” said Cox, a Donald Trump supporter who denies that Joe Biden was the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

Cox sought to block a court order allowing the early counting of mail-in ballots for the Maryland general election, claiming the underlying law was unconstitutional. He said it was too soon to say if he would accept the results of an election that hasn’t been completed.

Moore, in his response, read a post on Cox’s Twitter account in which he announced he would co-host a bus trip to Washington, D.C.,  on Jan. 6. That so-called “stop the steal’ rally  morphed into an insurrection where rioters stormed and briefly occupied the U.S. Capitol and disrupted a session of Congress.

Moore called it “dangerous” to continue to sow seeds of doubt on the process.

Cox responded that “the only thing that is dangerous is my opponent who wishes to completely ignore the Constitution and state law.” 

Both candidates were asked about improving the economic conditions of minorities whose earning potential is less than white workers, as well as the possibility of reparations.

Cox said the only reparations he would discuss are redress for business owners affected by a COVID-19 lockdown imposed in 2020 by Hogan.

“The impacts of racial disparities did not start two years ago, Delegate Cox,” Moore said. “We are watching something that has been a long-term challenge that our state has got to wrestle with and address.”

Moore said his focus would be on “creating pathways for work, wages and wealth” including education and a $15 per hour minimum wage that increases with inflation, affordable homes and ending a practice of appraisals that are lower for minority homeowners.

Both men also expressed clear differences on the issue of abortion following a recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned the Roe v. Wade decision.

Both were asked about their position on national abortion legislation.

“I’m focused on being the governor of Maryland,” said Cox, who declares himself a “pro life” candidate and applauded the Supreme Court decision earlier this year.

“One of the things that is near and dear to my heart is to ensure that everyone is safe,” Cox said. That women and children and the unborn have equal protection and are supported by our laws.”

Maryland has strong laws that protect access to abortion. Following the Supreme Court decision, state Democratic leaders in the legislature said they want to enshrine those protections in the state constitution.

“I believe that abortion is health care, and I fully trust women to make this decision with their doctors,” Moore said. “I want Maryland to be a safe haven for abortion rights.”

Moore said he backed earlier efforts to add the rights to the state constitution and as governor would do so again. “Maryland can be a state that protects abortion rights and abortion access,” Moore said.

Both candidates differed on the issue of public safety, with Cox declaring himself a law and order candidate. Moore called public safety a top priority and argued that state resources could be better used to help local policing efforts.

“It’s important that we get the illegal guns off the street,” said Cox, who then accused Moore of opposing stiffer penalties for violent offenders using guns as well as a desire to “defund the police.”

“We’re going to bring back law and order,” Cox said. “We’re going to bring back the safety on our streets that everyone is crying out for.”

Moore denied making the comments attributed to him by Cox and noted his endorsement by the state Fraternal order of Police.

“People need to feel safe in their own communities, in their own homes and in their own skin,” Moore said. “My opponent likes to say he backs the blue. The irony is the blue doesn’t back you.”