TAKOMA PARK — Peter Franchot kicked off Election Day on Tuesday by greeting volunteers, poll workers and voters as part of his final 12-stop push for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Mr. Franchot, the state comptroller, is looking to play a dark horse role in a Democratic race where much of the focus has been on the battle between Tom Perez — a former U.S. labor secretary and former Democratic Party chair endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — and Wes Moore, a former nonprofit CEO and bestselling author whom Oprah Winfrey endorsed.
Democrats in solidly blue Maryland are fighting to regain control of the governor’s mansion after eight years of Republican leadership under Gov. Larry Hogan, who is term limited.
Whoever wins the Democratic nomination is expected to become the front-runner in the general election.
The race for the GOP nomination pits Kelly Schulz, a former Hogan cabinet secretary, against state Delegate Dan Cox, who has former President Donald Trump’s endorsement.
There is a good chance the winner of one, if not both, of the nomination races won’t be known for several days because election officials will not start counting mail-in ballots until Thursday.
More than 219,000 mail-in ballots had been received and more were on the way. Mail-in ballots have to be either postmarked by Tuesday or dropped off at one of the 288 ballot drop boxes across the state.
Close to 500,000 mail-in ballots were requested and sent to voters. Over 370,000 mail-in ballots were sent to Democrats, and over 86,000 were sent to Republicans.
Mr. Hogan and the Democrat-led state legislature tried to avoid the delayed count earlier this year, but failed to find common ground on a proposal that would have allowed the local board of elections to pre-process ballots before Election Day to allow for more timely reporting of results.
For the candidates, Election Day became a case of hurry up and wait.
Mr. Franchot said it is “a confusing situation” that speaks to the need for the sort of government reforms he plans to implement as governor.
“The state board of elections and local board of elections problem with counting the mail-in ballots is just unacceptable, and people lose their trust and confidence in government regardless of the explanation when they see this kind of train wreck of inability to tabulate the voters that have been cast,” he told The Washington Times.
He worried that the delay would spur fears of shenanigans in the ballot tabulation.
“It is unacceptable because it feeds conspiratorial mistrust in government,” he said, “but it also challenges the trust and confidence of ordinary voters in the state who say, ‘Why can’t the state get its act together?’”
The situation fueled speculation that if Mr. Cox loses a close race against Ms. Schulz, he would borrow a page out of the Trump playbook by blaming voter fraud for his loss.
Mr. Hogan’s shadow has loomed large over both races. He has won praise from both sides of the aisle for his willingness to criticize Mr. Trump and for governing as a moderate in one of America’s most liberal states.
His approach frustrated hardline conservatives and hard core liberals, prompting some of the candidates to run hard to the left and hard to the right in this year’s primary contest.
The GOP race reflected other contests across the country with Ms. Schulz’s assuming the role of the traditional conservative, and Mr. Cox going all-in on the “Make America Great Again” movement.
The Democratic race was viewed as a race between insiders and outsiders.
Describing himself as a “happy warrior” and an “outsider looking in,” Mr. Franchot told the Times that the stakes of the gubernatorial race are enormous. He said his fiscally moderate, socially liberal brand is a good fit for the moment.
“Unfortunately we are heading into a very volatile, uncertain, economy and we already have a tremendous amount of suffering going on in the state and we need to be very careful about protecting the economic property we have and once we get through the recession rebuilding a lot of our small businesses across the state,” he said.
Mr. Perez, meanwhile, said he is “confident” his campaign was peaking at the right time, and said his experience at the local, state and federal level “meets the moment.”
“What we’ve seen in the work that we’ve done is that Maryland voters are sick of the gridlock in Washington,” Mr. Perez said on MSNBC. “They want someone here who can get stuff done, and I am a proud member of what I call the ‘GSD’ wing of the Democratic Party.”
“They want someone who can actually improve their lives,” Mr. Perez said. “They see that I can hit that ground running on Day One. I don’t need an apprentice program and I am not the show horse in the race. I’m the workhorse.”
Mr. Moore, who also had the support of House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a staple of the Maryland Democratic political landscape, framed the race as a clear choice, saying he looks at things through “a different lens.“
“Will we settle for the broken politics and policies of the past, or will we move forward together and build a state where we leave no one behind?” he said. “I ask for your vote. We can’t miss this moment.”
Voters in Maryland also were voting in primaries for the state legislature and Congress. The marquee race, though, was the gubernatorial race.
The Democrat contest also featured former Education Secretary John King, former state Attorney General Doug Gansler and former nonprofit executive Jon Baron.
Voter turnout appeared to be low in several polling places on Tuesday, including at a community recreation center in Silver Spring where the number of campaign volunteers easily outnumbered voters.
Those occasional voters who did show up found themselves swarmed with last-second pleas for support.
Evoya McKamey, a retired post office worker, said she cast her support for Mr. Perez, citing the civil rights work he did in the Obama administration.
“That pulled my attention to him,” Ms. McKamey said. “I’m confident he will be something different.”
The governor’s race in Maryland is one of the few potential bright spots for Democrats in an election cycle that is shaping up to be good for Republicans.
Political forecasters give Democrats the edge in the race.
Polls have shown both races have been fluid, and that a lot of voters were still making up their minds heading into Election Day.