By ABBY ZIMMARDI AND SHANNON CLARK
OWINGS MILLS – Gubernatorial candidates Dan Cox and Wes Moore tangled, sometimes viciously, Wednesday in their first, and probably only, televised debate. Supporters lined the streets outside Maryland Public Television headquaters Wednesday afternoon, holding posters, chanting and waving as cars drove to the station for the debate.
Democrat Moore, who has a 2-to-1 lead among voters in the latest poll, appeared initially to plan to sidestep the debate, while Republican Cox, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump and vilified by Gov. Hogan came into the contest needing to appeal to a broader swath of voters. The candidates were questioned by a panel of reporters and students from Morgan State University and Salisbury University.
Abortion becomes an issue in safe-haven state
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade has affected state and national elections, tightening or overturning races that appeared to be easy victories for Republicans. Women, who are registering in droves, have tipped numerous elections toward Democrats. The subject became front and center, as the candidates outlined their positions in a state where abortion is legal and voters go to the polls in November to decide whether to ensure the right in the state constitution.
Moore, who stands as pro-choice, repeatedly voiced his support for the procedure, saying abortion falls under health care and that he trusts women to make their own decisions with their doctor. He said he wants Maryland to be a “safe haven” state for women. He said his opponent, would have a woman arrested for getting an abortion.
Cox, who said he is “pro-life,” denied the accusation. Still, he stands in opposition to abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and if the mother’s life is endangered.
“Women, children and the unborn have equal protections,” he said.
Cox said Moore’s stances that abortion is healthcare and that women should have control of their bodies stand in opposition to his and other Democrats’ position on vaccination mandates. He said that it should be each person’s choice to get a vaccine. He said that if the government is not forcing anyone to have an abortion, how can it force people, such as state, federal, and municipal employees, to get COVID-19 vaccinations? It’s really obnoxious that the government wants to take control.”
Character assassination was a debate staple
Both candidates attacked each other’s character in almost every question.
Cox said Moore lied about his life in his best-selling book, “The Other Wes Moore.” He accused Moore of claiming to be a Baltimore native, ”but sir, you weren’t there until you were 34.” He accused Moore of ducking him repeatedly in debates. “When you look at the reason he won’t debate, it’s because he’s a phony,” he said. He accused Moore of hypocrisy, because as the head of an education non-profit that helped others, “he was making millions, and he’s currently living in a $3 million home (when) he leaves Baltimore.”
Moore called Cox an election denier and tried to tie him to former President Donald Trump. In response to a question about whether Cox would accept the election, he read a tweet from Cox to the audience:
“I want to read something,” Moore said. “‘I am co-hosting two buses to the Million MAGA March/rally with the Frederick County conservative club in support of @realDonaldTrump on January 6, 2021, to #stopthesteal. Demand NO, #ChinaBiden.’ Those are the words of my opponent.”
Hogan Administration casts a shadow throughout the debate
The panel asked Cox and Moore to give a final grade for the Hogan administration. Hogan leaves office as one of Maryland’s most popular governors in the past 20 years, with an approval rating hovering near 73%. Moore joked he could not give Hogan a final grade because his administration is not yet complete. Moore thanked Hogan for calling out the MAGA movement as extremist and said unlike Hogan, as governor he would help the state’s economy grow faster.
Cox said he supported the Hogan administration and would rate it an “A.” Moore countered, “We’re watching a perfect indication as to why Governor Hogan calls Cox unfit. Hogan has said ‘not only will I not support Cox, I won’t even give him a tour of the governor’s office.’ Frankly, I’m standing on stage right now with an extremist election denier.”
Both candidates referenced their children as examples in addressing education-related issues, but offered dramatically different viewpoints.
Cox pledged to change the way parents are involved in schools. He promised to get rid of “transgender indoctrination in kindergarten,” which he said included stopping the reading of LGBTQ+ books. He said he will get the state back to “world-class learning,” which includes reading, writing, and arithmetic so that “our kids can learn like God intended them to learn.” He said he wants to end the “politicization” of the classroom and “get back to math.”
Moore, who is backed by the Maryland State Education Association, said educators have the same goals for his children as he does to prepare them for the world they will inherit. He said partnerships between parents and educators are not indoctrination. Moore rejected Cox’s characterization of LGGTQ+ influence in schools and instead referenced the homelessness rate of LGBTQ+ youth and the 80% suicide contemplation rate for transgender youth.
How to bridge racial disparities
To close the racial gaps that exist in the state, Cox said the state’s Black business owners should receive reparations for the past two years because they suffered most from the pandemic. He did not state concrete plans about how he intends to provide reparations.
Moore countered that racial disparities did not start two years ago, saying the racial wealth gap in Maryland is an issue the state has to address. Moore said he will create pathways for work, wealth and wages by raising the minimum wage to $15 next year instead of 2025, as scheduled. He said he would address appraisal values in historically redlined minority neighborhoods and fix broken procurement laws.
Moore said if voters approve the legalization of marijuana, he will ensure a fair rollout to include Black marijuana entrepreneurs. He also said he will address the consequences of criminalization, specifically in Black and Latino communities. He will consider pardons for those with marijuana charges on their criminal records.
Cox said he agreed with Moore’s position. “Everyone should be treated equal. That’s why I do support making sure that those who are criminalized for small possessions are no longer criminalized. We need to make sure that we have a path for people to reestablish themselves, so they don’t lose their job over something like that.”