It’s finally official, but you didn’t have to wait two (shamefully) long weeks to know how Schulz v Cox would end. If you took an objective view of the candidates, you could have predicted the outcome from the time they both filed. If you are shocked by the result, you were likely blinded by your personal or political relationship with the players and unable to see your candidate’s weakness or their opponent’s strength.
On its face, this was simply a proxy war between Trump and Hogan, a pitstop on the way to the general for Schulz. Or so said the conventional wisdom. But if past is prologue, and you scrolled their electoral history, you could have bet it would be Cox in a rout.
Kelly Schulz was 5-for-5 in ballot appearances, first as a candidate for the local Central Committee, then in races for the multi member House of Delegates seats in 2010 and 2014. In her all important primary races, she finished in the money, but she never finished first.
Dan Cox had a mixed electoral history. He was 7-for-9. He too ran in multi member races but in 2016 he also ran for congress and lost as the GOP’s nominee in the heavily gerrymandered 8th district. To his credit, Cox didn’t let that loss defeat him. In 2018 he took what he learned and parlayed it into a first place finish for one of three Delegate seats.
In politics as in life, a loss is only a loss if you don’t learn from it. It’s what defeat taught Cox that gave him the edge. Being rejected by the voters is crushing. Many candidates never run again. Cox understood how to run a head-to-head, winner-take-all, if-you’re-not-first-your-last, campaign. Schulz never had a tough race.
Elections often turn on the intangibles. In this case it’s the will-to-win. That fire-in-the-belly drive and determination to take off the gloves and scorch the earth if necessary. Filing impeachment articles against the governor of his own party proved there was nothing Cox wouldn’t do to win the nomination. Cox played offense from day one. Schulz’ rose garden campaign didn’t take the field for months. GOP primary voters are angry. They don’t want bean bag, they want a fighter.
In a very Clubber Lang-ish (Rocky III) moment, Cox proved to be the fighter they were looking for. He crashed an MDGOP press conference and took on Hogan, Schulz and the entire party establishment from the literal and figurative fringe.
When it comes to endorsements, Trump endorsed candidates were racking up wins everywhere, including right across the Potomac in WV where Rep. Alex Mooney defeated Rep. David McKinley by double digits. Schulz’ advisors dismissed the warning signs right on their doorstep. Hogan who spent more time on CNN than at Lincoln Day Dinners had zero coattails. Every time Hogan mentioned Trump, Cox went up a point. Among the likely mask-mandate-loathing GOP primary voter, Hogan was a liability.
This isn’t 2014. Today voters are tired of masks and mandates, virtue signaling and virtual schools. Hogan’s heavy-handed response to COVID was red meat to primary voters. “Just wear the damn mask,” was a slap in their collective mask-less faces. After two terms with Hogan, Schulz was stuck with his ’lockdown’ baggage. It was impossible for her to dump it, and him. Yet in an ironic twist, it appears to be Schulz who got dumped. Hogan was last seen campaigning for president in New Hampshire.
You can blame the Democratic Governors Association for Schulz’ loss if it makes you feel better, but the DGA wouldn’t have spent a dime on Cox had Schulz been up by double digits.
Speaking of polls, the few that were public had a constant refrain, ‘Undecideds’ led the field. This was bad news for presumptive frontrunners Franchot and Schulz. If voters weren’t sold on them yet, they weren’t going to be.
Primary voters occasionally reward insurgent candidates (think AOC and Dave Brat). In low turnout elections those voters make up a larger percentage of the total vote. By 10 a.m. on Election Day, it was clear the frontrunners were doomed.
Every election is a change election, some more than others, and a referendum on the incumbent. In the Maryland GOP primary, Dan Cox was the candidate of change, Hogan was the incumbent and Schulz was his proxy. Cox ran against Hogan’s mishandling of COVID. Kelly Schulz was an almost innocent bystander. The results were a repudiation of Hogan by the GOP. They might buy Hogan’s excuses on CNN, but they won’t buy them in Iowa.
Don Murphy is the Director of Government Relations for the Marijuana Leadership Campaign where he lobbies Congress on drug policy reform. He is a former member of the Maryland General Assembly, 4-time RNC Convention Delegate, current Vice Chair of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee and occasional campaign sign critic at www.GoodSignBadSign.com.