By MICHAEL CHARLES and HANNAH ZIEGLER
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS – Just a month into his first public office, the top media started asking Gov. Wes Moore if he’s running for president.
While it can be hard to deflect the spotlight, Moore insists that he is focused solely on Maryland and Marylanders.
One month almost to the day after Moore officially took office, he appeared on “DMV Zone” on Fox5 – a top station in a top-10 national media market, and was asked by anchor Marina Marraco, “You’ve been in office for 23 days and people are already raising your name as a potential Democratic nominee for 2024. What do you say to the constituents who voted you into the State House in Annapolis that you could potentially be leaving in the next year?”
“I am not leaving next year,” said a chuckling Moore. “The president is going to run and I’m going to support his reelection campaign.” When asked again, Moore doubled down.
“I’m also going on the record of saying that not only will I not run, I’m going to support the president in his reelection,” Moore said. “We’re excited for the partnership that we have with the federal government and in order for this to be Maryland’s decade, which it is, it means we’re going to have strong partnerships with Washington in order to make that happen.”
Moore noted that President Joe Biden has visited Maryland often in 2023, with one trip for the announcement of a project that will bring 30,000 jobs to the state. State leaders in Maryland are “thankful” for Biden’s partnership, Moore added during the Fox5 interview.
The national media clamor has only continued to mount since Moore took office in mid-January. That attention, rather than serving as a distraction, may benefit him as he looks to prove himself to Marylanders and other observers, state political analysts have said.
“If Governor Moore does, in fact, have long-term national ambitions, he has to demonstrate his ability to govern effectively here in Maryland,” said Len Foxwell of Tred Avon strategies, a Democratic consulting firm. “While it has to be personally gratifying for the governor to receive this level of national speculation at such an early phase, … his ultimate success will be determined by the extent to which he focuses on what’s happening right here in the state of Maryland, and his ability to do his day job to the best of his ability.”
Moore’s background has also made him a tantalizing potential presidential candidate. The 44-year-old was born in Takoma Park, Maryland, graduated from Valley Forge Military College in 1998 and from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 before attending the University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. He later served as a captain and paratrooper with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, including leading troops into combat in Afghanistan. Moore also launched a business called BridgeEdU, designed to assist underserved college students, before becoming CEO of the anti-poverty Robin Hood Foundation.
Moore had never held elective office, yet won November’s general election by 32.4 points over Republican challenger Dan Cox, becoming Maryland’s first Black governor.
Maryland’s geography, so near the halls of national power, and its plentiful media presence has meant that “the question” is not that unusual for a Maryland political leader. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, ran for president in 2016, conceding shortly after a third-place Iowa caucus finish. Gov. Larry Hogan was touted as a moderate Republican alternative candidate to Donald Trump, but he abstained from entering the presidential arena. And now Moore, who as the state’s first Black governor and as one of the younger leaders of an aging Democratic Party, is seen as a fresh alternative to the status quo.
But unlike O’Malley and Hogan, who built momentum while in office, the buzz around Moore began before he was even sworn in. Political analysts have said Moore can channel this momentum to build his Maryland agenda, thus propelling his national stature, if that is his goal.
“You need to build a record, you need to build the agenda because, in the end, the ultimate currency is what you do in office,” said Michael Ricci, Hogan’s director of communications. “Obviously approval ratings matter, profile in the party matters, but you have to have a record. Things you passed, things you did. You’re an executive, you get measured by results.”
Ricci credits Hogan’s rejection of Trumpisms and strong approval ratings from handling the COVID pandemic as a catalyst for his rising national platform. While Hogan did not make national appearances often, the attention he garnered was beneficial to his work in Maryland.
According to Moore’s office, before his third month in office, the governor had appeared on at least eight national television programs, including trips to “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” on CNN. He was a guest at Biden’s State of the Union speech. And it didn’t hurt his popularity that media mogul Oprah Winfrey introduced him at his inauguration.
Moore’s youth and enthusiasm could account for some of the attention, given the aging of the national, as well as Maryland’s, political elite. Maryland’s longtime, highest-ranking, national political leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer, is serving his 22nd term in the House. The Democrat representing Maryland’s 5th Congressional District served in Democratic House leadership for more than 20 years, including two stints as majority leader. He stepped down from leadership earlier this year.
Other prominent Democrats in national politics – including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Biden and Rep. Jim Clyburn, currently the assistant Democratic leader in the House – are each in their early 80s.
“You’re looking to a party that is aging. You look at our president, you look at Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, here is a much younger, new generation,” said Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science and public policy studies coordinator at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “Now we have Wes Moore – young, served in the military, former CEO, an investment banker, wins by 30 points. And I think folks instantly look to him, as well as here’s the dynamic young leader of the Democratic Party.”
Maryland’s senior Sen. Ben Cardin, who will be 80 this year, is not surprised that Moore has made a splash with his national appearances and entertains speculation about his future in national politics.
Moore’s relative youth, paired with the “full package” of clear policy visions, a strong state legislature and natural charisma makes it easier for him to relate to younger generations of voters, Cardin said.
“He is charismatic, he is talented, he is showing all the right signs. And yes, he is popular around the nation as one of the rising stars,” Cardin said in an interview with Capital News Service. “I do think he recognizes that, regardless of what happens nationally, his options are going to be very much tied to what he does as governor of Maryland.”
Moore’s national popularity coming early in his first term is also part of a broader trend of “young, diverse and exciting” leadership rising through the Democratic Caucus, Hoyer said in a statement to Capital News Service.
The governor excites members of the Democratic Party and speaks “eloquently and inspiringly” about the work his administration has taken on, Hoyer said. Moore’s national spotlight is a testament to Maryland’s continued ability to produce great leadership, he added.
“I endorsed him early on because I knew what sort of leader he could be for Maryland,” Hoyer said. “As a man of integrity and decency, he is able to make people feel seen and heard. He has already proven to be a great leader of our state.”
Eberly said that most American governors have considered a presidential bid at some time during their times in office. But few governors ever “elevate” the thought of “Hey, could I possibly be president?” to a serious discussion, Eberly added.
Foxwell said that national recognition is an asset for Moore and Maryland.
“To the extent that he applies his star power, his stature, and reputation to his governing agenda here in Maryland, yes, it gives him political capital,” said Foxwell. “It will only enhance rather than diminish his popularity and it will only enlarge the platform that he has from which to advocate for priorities such as better health care, better education, social equity, and economic justice.”
That profile is already paying off, said U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland’s junior Democratic senator. The governor hit the ground running with a diverse Cabinet and voiced full-throttle support for bringing the FBI headquarters to Maryland, Van Hollen said in a statement to Capital News Service.
Moore has “bold plans to open the doors of opportunity to more Marylanders,” the senator added.
“Governor Moore’s early weeks in the office make clear that his vision for a state that leaves no one behind is more than just a slogan,” Van Hollen said.
Cardin called Moore an “inspirational” leader and “rising star” in American politics whose charisma has allowed him to make a bigger splash on the national stage.
“He’s representing the best state in the country. He has the best vision, he has talent, and he has a support network in our state that can certainly help him be a successful governor,” Cardin said. “And being a successful governor means there’s gonna be more and more conversation about (his future).”