The Republican and Democratic candidates looking to replace outgoing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan sparred Wednesday evening in their only debate of the race with less than a month before Election Day and just two weeks before early voting begins.
Republican Dan Cox and Democrat Wes Moore touched on a host of policy issues from abortion and education to inflation and racial disparities, with two reoccurring themes that their respective parties have shown a spotlight on at the national level: crime and election integrity.
Mr. Cox accused Mr. Moore, an author and former top executive of the poverty-fighting nonprofit Robin Hood, of being soft on crime.
“He wants to defund the police, and not just that: he wants to indict the system,” Mr. Cox said. “Now that’s not talk or rhetoric that’s safe for anyone.”
Mr. Moore, meanwhile, charged Mr. Cox, a far-right state delegate from Frederick County endorsed by former President Donald Trump, with being an “extremist election-denier.”
“We’re watching a perfect indication as to why Gov. Hogan called you unfit to lead,” Mr. Moore said. “Frankly, I’m standing on stage right now with an extremist election-denier, whose rhetoric and whose policies are just dangerous and divisive.”
Mr. Cox left the door open to potentially denying the results of his election.
“I have always accepted election results that are fair and that are following the Constitution,” he said. “At this point, it would be similar to saying that before a surgery takes place to decide whether or not the surgery went well.”
Mr. Cox has promoted Mr. Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged and helped organize buses that took people to the U.S. Capitol on the day of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.
Despite the debate, the race appears to be all but sealed for Mr. Moore.
Mr. Cox is trailing the Democrat by double-digits in the polls. A Washington Post-University of Maryland survey published at the beginning of this month had Mr. Moore ahead by a more than 2-to-1 margin — 60% to 28%.
Mr. Cox became the GOP nominee despite opposition from Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, who threw his support instead to Kelly Schulz, a moderate Republican and Hogan protege.
Mr. Hogan, a moderate himself and fierce critic of Mr. Trump, has labeled Mr. Cox a “QAnon whackjob” and said he’s not “mentally stable.” Mr. Cox pushed to impeach Mr. Hogan over the governor’s COVID-19 policies, though the candidate said he would give Mr. Hogan an “A” letter grade on all other matters.
Mr. Hogan served back-to-back terms, becoming a nationally recognized Republican figure leading an otherwise overwhelmingly blue state.
Despite his apparent disdain for the Republican nominee, the outgoing governor has said he will not endorse either candidate.
Both candidates have spent unusually low amounts of ad money for a statewide race amid small fundraising hauls by both men. Mr. Moore had $1.3 million cash on hand as of late August compared to the more cash-strapped campaign of Mr. Cox, which reported only about $130,000 in the bank around the same time.
In an attempt to boost his candidate, Mr. Trump is slated to host a fundraiser for Mr. Cox next week at his South Florida Mar-a-Lago estate to the tune of $1,776 per person.