Wes Moore, Black Democrats aiming to make Maryland history

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FILE - Maryland's Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore, right, and lieutenant governor nominee Aruna Miller walk together during a Labor Day parade in Gaithersburg, Md., on Sept. 5, 2022. Moore could soon make history if elected Maryland's first Black governor, and he's not alone: Rep. Anthony Brown would be the state's first Black attorney general. Miller would be Maryland's first immigrant lieutenant governor, and the first Asian-American elected statewide. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston, File)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Wes Moore could soon make history if elected Maryland’s first Black governor, and he's not alone: Rep. Anthony Brown would be the state’s first Black attorney general. Aruna Miller, Moore's running mate who immigrated from India, would be the first Asian-American elected statewide in Maryland.

If these Democrats win — Moore has led by more than 30 percentage points in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 — Black politicians will hold many of the top state offices in Maryland, which is now a majority-minority state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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With a victory, Moore would reclaim the governor’s office for Democrats, after eight years of term-limited Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

“I think it will be interesting to see what Maryland looks like when it’s a unified Democratic government that looks like the promise of diverse representation in that big-tent sort of politics that the Democratic Party has really been trying to have nationally," said Mileah Kromer, who teaches political science at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland.

Moore, a 44-year-old combat veteran, Rhodes scholar, author and former CEO of an anti-poverty nonprofit, has run with a “leave no one behind” slogan. He’s promised to maintain funding for the K-12 education plan with sweeping equity goals known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, and build on other initiatives to create equal opportunity for Maryland residents.

“This can be Maryland’s moment,” Moore said in his only televised debate against the GOP nominee, Del. Dan Cox. “We have amazing people and incredible potential, but not everybody’s in a position to succeed.”

Only two Black politicians have ever been elected governor in the United States — Virginia’s Douglas Wilder in 1989, and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts in 2006. Democrat Stacey Abrams would become the nation's first Black female governor if she wins her Georgia rematch against GOP Gov. Brian Kemp.

Maryland's legislature has long been controlled by Democrats, who chose Del. Adrienne Jones to be the state’s first Black and first female House speaker in 2019. With Senate President Bill Ferguson, who is white, they have been driving policies in the General Assembly with a greater focus on equity concerns.

While headlines about political divides dominate the news, Holli Holliday feels the nation is shifting to embrace diversity, not just across racial lines but also in backgrounds and perspectives in addressing challenges.

“Certainly I can see that Maryland is a precursor to what I think we will see in states that, like Maryland, have a large minority population and particularly a large African-American population," said Holliday, who is president of Sisters Lead Sisters Vote, a 501(c) 4 organization founded by Black women and who lives in majority-Black Prince George's County.

Some symbolic changes also have been evident in Maryland: Statues of famed abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass — both born enslaved on Maryland’s Eastern Shore — have been added to the historic Old House Chamber, where slavery was abolished in the state in 1864.

And in 2017, in the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Va., state leaders removed from the Capitol grounds a statue of Roger B. Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice from Maryland who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and denied citizenship to African Americans.

Moore has former President Barack Obama's endorsement, while Cox, a first-term state legislator, is endorsed by former President Donald Trump, who received 32% of the vote in Maryland in the 2020 presidential election. Cox has said President Joe Biden’s victory shouldn’t have been certified and tweeted that former Vice President Mike Pence was a “traitor.”

Not even Hogan is supporting Cox, describing him as a “QAnon whack job.” Cox defeated Kelly Schulz, the moderate Republican Hogan endorsed, in the primary after the Democratic Governors Association bought TV ads to help him, wagering he'd be easier to defeat in the general election.

The Democrats' advantage was apparent in a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. Conducted by telephone Sept. 22-27, it found 60% said they would vote for Moore, 28% percent for Cox and 9% percent were undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Brown led by 22 points last month in a Goucher College poll against Republican Michael Peroutka. That telephone survey was conducted among likely voters Sept. 8-12, and had a 3.6% error margin.

Peroutka left the League of the South, classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, when a video surfaced during a previous campaign showing him singing “Dixie” -- what he called “the national anthem” -- at a league conference.

The Maryland governorship has eluded Black candidates in the last two elections. Brown, who was lieutenant governor for eight years during former Gov. Martin O'Malley's tenure, lost in 2014 to Hogan, who won handily in an upset. Hogan proved to be popular and beat former NAACP President Ben Jealous in 2018, becoming only the second Republican governor in the history of Maryland to win re-election.

Quentin James, founder and president of The Collective PAC — a political action committee that focuses on electing Black candidates around the country — said Moore's strong credentials and his victory in a crowded primary against nationally known rivals should dispel lingering doubts among some Democrats that Black candidates can win top offices.

Moore overcame some internal opposition expressed by a former Maryland Democratic Party official, who resigned as deputy treasurer after questioning the electability of Black candidates for governor in an email to other party members. The state's party chair — a Black woman — responded swiftly, saying “we do not condone or support the comments in her email.”

“I think it’s a testament of where Maryland and our country is headed in terms of Black leadership ascending to these offices that haven’t had enough representation," James said of Moore's and Brown's candidacies.


This version corrects Wes Moore's age to 44.


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