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What To Watch In The Maryland Primary

After a busy May and June, July is a lonely month for primaries. Maryland is the only state holding a primary election for Congress or a major statewide office this month, after its primary was delayed from June 28 due to redistricting litigation. And a few races in the Old Line State follow some of the same storylines we’ve seen so far this year, including continued Democratic battles over race and ideology, the impact of outside spending in Democratic primaries and Trump’s continued influence in Republican intraparty contests.

Here’s a look at the three contests we’re watching closely today, with interesting primaries in two U.S. House seats and competitive races in both parties’ primaries for governor.

Races to watch: 4th and 6th congressional districts; governor

Polls close: 8 p.m. Eastern

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is term-limited, so the open-seat race for governor in this usually solid-blue state has attracted a total of nine Democratic contenders,1 as there’s a good chance the party will be favored in November. A range of candidates are running, too, with six notable Democrats in the mix — three of whom look poised to win the nomination.

Of those three, Marylanders are probably the most familiar with four-term state Comptroller Peter Franchot. The political veteran has a reputation as a populist with a knack for garnering attention, and since Hogan entered office, Franchot has become close to the governor despite their party differences because of their shared goal of reducing state spending and cutting taxes. Still, the 74-year-old Franchot, who is white, might face a tough sell in convincing Black Marylanders, who could make up 40 percent or more of the primary electorate, that he’ll build an economy with a “level playing field.” His running mate, former Prince George’s County Councilor Monique Anderson-Walker, is Black and has been prominently featured in his ad focused on helping people build wealth.

Also in serious contention is Wes Moore, an author and former nonprofit CEO who has an impressive biography. Moore, who is Black, lost his father as a child and was sent off to military school, which he points to as a catalyst for becoming an Army captain, a Rhodes Scholar and, later, the CEO of an anti-poverty nonprofit. Moore also wrote a bestselling memoir and went on to host a show on the Oprah Winfrey Network (notably, Winfrey has cut an ad for Moore). But it’s possible that certain elements of Moore’s profile are exaggerated, in particular his connection to Baltimore; he didn’t actually grow up there despite coverage that suggests he did. Moore has also been accused of failing to correct past interviewers who said he had earned a Bronze Star during his Army service. This hasn’t dissuaded notable Democrats from supporting him, however. In Moore’s camp is Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who represents Baltimore, as well as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and the two Democratic leaders in the state legislature.

Finally, the other top-tier contender is Tom Perez, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and a secretary of labor under President Barack Obama. Perez has built a national profile in the past decade, but he’s also been involved in Maryland politics, having served as a council president in Montgomery County in the early 2000s and then as Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s labor secretary. The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Perez is running on the message that he’ll “get stuff done,” and notably, he’s attracted primary endorsements from the state’s two main newspapers, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun, which could provide a small boost in a highly competitive primary with a large number of undecided voters.

Three other candidates merit a mention, though. First, there’s former Secretary of Education John King, who served in Obama’s Cabinet and has mounted a progressive campaign that has gained the backing of the Sierra Club, Our Revolution and Pro-Choice Maryland. Then there’s former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is running as a tough-on-crime moderate who also wants to protect the environment. But Gansler may be held back by scandals that upended his 2014 gubernatorial campaign, such as directing state troopers to speed with their lights and sirens on so he could get to routine appointments and attending a party where underage drinking appeared to be happening. Lastly, nonprofit executive Jon Baron is in the mix, having self-funded his campaign, which pledges to take a more evidence-based approach to developing policy solutions.

Polls generally put Franchot, Moore and Perez in a three-way battle for first, although King’s polling suggests he’s also a contender. The most recent independent poll from Goucher College/The Baltimore Banner/WYPR found in mid-June that Franchot was leading with 16 percent and Moore and Perez were tied for second with 14 percent. Meanwhile, the rest of the field was in the low-to-mid single digits. Two late June surveys sponsored by campaigns also showed a close race. A Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group poll for Moore’s campaign found Franchot and Moore running neck and neck at around 20 percent, with Perez at 16 percent, while a 20/20 Insight survey on behalf of King’s campaign found Perez leading with 22 percent and Moore, King and Franchot in a close fight for second in the mid-to-high teens.

With the race so tight, campaign spending could make the difference. And it’s Moore who has led on this front: In tandem with his running mate, former Del. Aruna Miller, his campaign has attracted $7.9 million and had the most money for the final weeks of the campaign (about $810,000 as of July 3). Franchot and Anderson-Walker meanwhile have raised around $4.5 million. Although Franchot started the cycle with $977,000 in the bank from previous campaigns, he had about $630,000 left as of July 3. Close behind were Perez and his running mate, former Baltimore City Councilor Shannon Sneed, who brought in $4.4 million and had $645,000 remaining. King’s campaign has also raised a fair bit ($3.6 million), but only had about $208,000 left over. As for the other two candidates, they’ve largely self-funded, with Baron loaning his campaign $1.7 million out of $2.3 million raised, and Gansler loaning his campaign $800,000 of $1.3 million; as of July 3, Baron had $337,000 in the bank while Gansler had about $550,000.

Meanwhile on the Republican side, the gubernatorial primary is a clash between a Hogan-backed candidate and a Trump endorsee. On Team Hogan is former Maryland Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schulz. Schulz served under Hogan and is now portraying herself as his natural successor, which could be smart as Hogan, who has endorsed Schulz, has proven to be a popular GOP governor in a blue state. On Team Trump, meanwhile, is state Del. Dan Cox, who is running as a vocal Trump supporter and has the former president’s endorsement. But considering Maryland’s strong Democratic lean, a Cox victory might preclude a competitive race in the fall.

Schulz’s challenge, however, has been how to balance appealing to conservative primary voters while not repelling parts of the state’s Democratic-leaning electorate that she needs in the general. To that end, she has focused on parental rights in education, a topic that Republicans believe boosted them in 2021, as well as opposing increased spending and higher taxes, issues that helped Hogan achieve an upset win in 2014. Her campaign has also hit Cox on his early stances on COVID-19 preventive measures and ethics. And more recently, the Schulz campaign has attacked Cox, who is an attorney, for defending an alleged child rapist.

For his part, Cox has played to the GOP base by opposing vaccine and mask mandates and abortion rights. Cox has also promoted the false claim that Trump won the 2020 election, and even chartered buses for Trump supporters to attend Trump’s Jan. 6 rally, which later turned into a violent attack on the Capitol, during which Cox tweeted “Pence is a traitor” over then-Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. More recently, Cox sponsored legislation to impeach Hogan, although it ultimately went nowhere. But this, in addition to Cox’s other hard-right positions and dalliances with QAnon conspiracists, has led Schulz’s campaign to call him “unfit for office.”

Schulz has had the financial upper hand throughout the campaign, as she’s raised about $2.6 million to Cox’s $662,000. She also entered the final weeks with more in the bank, $734,000 versus Cox’s $189,000. However, in a replay of what we’ve seen throughout this primary season, Democrats have sought to boost Cox with outside spending: The Democratic Governors Association has reserved at least $1.2 million in ads calling Cox “too conservative for Maryland,” which doubles as an attack ad (should Cox win) but also as a means to influence Republicans to support him.

The little polling we have suggests that the DGA’s investment could pay off, though. The most recent survey, that mid-June poll from Goucher College/The Baltimore Banner/WYPR, found Cox running just ahead of Schulz, 25 percent to 22 percent. But with 44 percent undecided, a lot of voters still remain on the fence. Notably, however, that same poll found that Schulz is far more likely to make November competitive than Cox. The survey asked Democrats if they’d consider voting for either Republican, and while only 9 percent said they’d consider Cox, 34 percent said they’d potentially consider Schulz.

Turning to Maryland’s two congressional primaries of note, Democrats have a highly contested race in the majority-Black 4th District, a deep-blue seat mostly centered on Prince George’s County, outside of Washington, D.C. Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown is running for attorney general, so the open-seat race has attracted a bevy of Democrats, but two contenders seem to have risen above the rest of the primary field: former Rep. Donna Edwards, who represented this seat from 2008 to 2017, and former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey (both candidates are Black).

Outside spending, driven largely by groups focused on Israel, is the main story here, though. The United Democracy Project, a super PAC partly funded by the bipartisan American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has invested heavily to defeat Edwards, whom AIPAC views as anti-Israel. In total, UDP has spent $4.2 million opposing her and $1.7 million supporting Ivey, running ads dinging Edwards for a poor record of constituent services and promoting Ivey’s record on combating crime and police misconduct. The Democratic Majority for Israel has also backed Ivey with $426,000. Meanwhile, J Street, a more progressive Israel-focused group, has spent $728,000 supporting Edwards or opposing Ivey. Overall, though, the nearly $8 million in spending by outside groups dwarfs the $940,000 and $737,000 spent by the Ivey and Edwards campaigns, respectively.

Polling has been scarce, but the most recent survey found Ivey just ahead of Edwards, 33 percent to 28 percent. However, that survey, which was conducted by Change Research on behalf of the pro-Edwards League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund, is from early June, before much of the spending by pro-Ivey groups took place. So, if there’s a favorite, it’s probably Ivey, although Edwards does have backing from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, labor groups and EMILY’s List.

Finally, the 6th District in western Maryland has a competitive GOP primary, with the winner set to face Democratic Rep. David Trone. The new congressional map made the 6th District much more competitive, too, turning it into a seat that is 1 point more Republican than the country as a whole,2 as opposed to the old D+16 boundaries. Six Republicans are running, but the two main contenders are state Del. Neil Parrott and Matthew Foldi, a former writer for the conservative Washington Free Beacon.

We haven’t seen any polling, so it’s hard to say who might come out on top. Only 25 years old, Foldi entered the race just before the April filing deadline but has endorsements from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Hogan. Foldi also raised about $223,000 in just one fundraising quarter of activity — a decent haul considering Parrott has brought in $328,000 over a much longer period of time. Foldi’s first ad highlighted his background as a reporter and his exposés about Democratic offices, including Trone’s, closing due to COVID-19 concerns. Still, Parrott isn’t to be discounted, as he may have a stronger base of local support and name recognition from his work as a member of the state legislature and his losing campaign against Trone in 2020 under the old lines. He also has backing from the Family Research Council and Rep. Andy Harris, currently the only Republican U.S. House member from Maryland.

Considering the potentially Republican-leaning environment and the purple nature of this seat, either Republican could give Trone trouble. But Trone will likely have more campaign cash at his disposal thanks to his personal wealth from his ownership of a wine store chain; he’s already given his campaign almost $12.6 million.

Well, that’s the July primary picture for you. We won’t be live-blogging the Maryland primary, but if you’re monitoring the results (we will be), remember that state law prohibits the counting of mail ballots before the Thursday after the election, meaning a sizable number of votes (particularly Democratic ones) will probably still need to be counted after Tuesday night.


  1. After Rushern Baker dropped out of the race in June.

  2. Partisan lean is the average margin difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. This version of partisan lean, meant to be used for congressional and gubernatorial elections, is calculated as 50 percent the state or district’s lean relative to the nation in the most recent presidential election, 25 percent its relative lean in the second-most-recent presidential election and 25 percent a custom state-legislative lean.

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.


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