Maryland voters head to the polls to make choices for the state’s top jobs

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An unusual and highly competitive primary season in Maryland draws to a close Tuesday as voters head to the polls to select candidates for some of the most powerful positions in state government.

Democrats will decide who among a crowded field of nine candidates should fight to reclaim the governor’s mansion from Republicans, a contest Democrats have lost more times than they have won over the past two decades despite their overwhelming advantage on voter registration. Three candidates, Comptroller Peter Franchot, former US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and author and former association chief Wes Moore have been locked in a tight race to the top of the pack.

Republicans will choose from four candidates in a race that has revealed rifts within the party. The favorites represent the pragmatic wing and the Trumpian wing of the party, with former Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz, a mentee of limited-term Governor Larry Hogan, and State Deputy Daniel L. Cox of Frederick, which is endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Voters will also nominate candidates for attorney general and comptroller, statewide positions held exclusively by Democrats for half a century or more.

Despite the high stakes, voters have largely ignored the gubernatorial race, with polls showing a plurality of voters remaining undecided in the home stretch. Complicating the fight for voters’ attention, the primary was thrust into the heat of the summer holiday season after a legal battle this spring over redistricting ended up pushing the date back three weeks. And with an unprecedented 500,000 voters requesting mail-in ballots, which election officials can’t start counting until Thursday, campaigns are bracing for long waits to decide a winner in many races.

“We’ve never had an election like this,” said John Willis, a professor of political science at the University of Baltimore, who served as Maryland’s secretary of state from 1995 to 2003. “People have looked for how to make comparisons, but it’s difficult.”

For controller, Democratic voters will vote for Del. Baltimore’s Brooke E. Lierman or Bowie Mayor Tim Adams in a low-key contest to be the state’s top tax collector. Republican Barry Glassman, the Harford County executive, is running unopposed.

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For the attorney general, the Republican candidates are former Montgomery County Board of Election Chairman Jim Shalleck and former Anne Arundel County Board member Michael Peroutka.

The Democratic race for attorney general has been among the most contentious of the season, pitting U.S. Representative Anthony G. Brown against former District Judge Katie Curran O’Malley. Brown and O’Malley were once allies, but they came under fire during the campaign trail.

Eager to boost turnout, candidates made a last-ditch effort over the weekend, knocking on the doors of loyal primary voters, waving campaign signs on busy street corners, shaking hands at farmers’ markets and churches .

As he gathered supporters on Saturday, Perez laid out the stakes. “It’s going to be very thin,” he told volunteers at his Silver Spring campaign office. “Someone is going to win this race with just a few thousand votes,” he said. “You know what, guys? Winning does not mean getting 50%. The winner of this election will obtain between 27 and 31% of the votes. »

Perez said in an interview that as he knocked on doors, he was surprised at the number of voters jumping into the competitive race that has been going on for more than a year. “They’re just starting to pay attention,” he said.

Perez is banking on a huge performance in Montgomery County, where he has lived for three decades and has been a prominent political figure, both as a former member of the local county council and as a national player in Democratic politics. He has recorded announcements in Spanish and raised awareness in other communities where he says candidates are often overlooked.

On Sunday, Moore attended two church services in Prince George’s County, flanked by senior elected officials, including County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks, one of his biggest promoters. Silver Spring’s Peter Igiebor walked up to Moore outside City of Praise Church in Landover to tell him he had his vote. “The way he was brought up, everything he achieved,” said Igiebor, 61. “I just had to tell him it was him.”

Moore plans to “do well” in Maryland’s second-largest county, where he has expanded his support base in recent weeks. “The people of Prince George’s County are excited about our campaign and they are thrilled that we will be raising the Prince George’s banner from Annapolis,” he said.

Moore, like Perez, said he saw a shift in voter focus on the race. “The continued shifting of the date was confusing to many voters, so part of what we had to do is not just educate people about our candidacy, but also educate them about the election,” Moore said.

Over the weekend, Franchot hit a few farmers markets in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, areas he hopes to finish well in. He also met and telephoned voters.

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Voting was weak during the eight days of early voting, which ended on Thursday. About 172,000 voters cast ballots in early voting, down nearly 22% from early turnout in 2018.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., former Attorney General Douglas Gansler, former nonprofit leader Jon Baron, Millennial candidate Ashwani Jain, progressive activist Jerome Segal and l Retired teacher Ralph Jaffe is also on the Democratic gubernatorial ballot. Perennial candidate Robin Ficker and attorney Joe Werner round out the Republican field.

Roger Hartley, dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore, pointed out that the effects of the pandemic, national political fatigue and a delayed midsummer primary likely contributed to lackluster early voting.

“People are focused on the kids going to camp,” Hartley said. “There’s fatigue about covid, the January 6 hearings, a lot of noise out there for people to pay attention.” But, he said, recent Supreme Court actions on abortion and guns could also energize voters in national and local races on Tuesday.

Last Thursday, volunteers handing out election materials far outnumbered the slow trickle of voters entering Arundel Middle School to cast their ballots.

A Democratic voter in Severn said he spent five minutes looking at the names of Moore and Perez as he stood in the voting booth. “It was tough,” said the 54-year-old engineer. He said he chose Moore because he was impressed with his work fighting poverty at the non-profit Robin Hood Foundation and had the support of the teachers’ union.

Annisa Walker said she was committed to voting for Franchot, and even told a volunteer who called her earlier this year but changed her mind last week. She voted for Perez, who was a civil rights attorney and chaired the Democratic National Committee. She said her experience won her over, seeing him as a candidate capable of bringing unity in a polarized political environment. “It was a wild card,” Walker, 54, said of his decision.

At City of Praise, Bobby Henry said Franchot was the only candidate who could secure a victory for the Democrats in November. “We can’t lose another governor’s race,” Henry said, shaking his head.

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