The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wes Moore endorsed by two top Baltimore-area elected officials

State Senate President Bill Ferguson and U.S. Rep Kweisi Mfume back the best-selling author in his bid to become Maryland governor

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore speaks at Bowie State University on April 29. (Eric Lee for The Washington Post)
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Former nonprofit chief and best-selling author Wes Moore on Tuesday picked up support from state Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), two influential leaders in the Baltimore region, in his quest to become Maryland’s next governor.

The endorsements come just weeks ahead of the July 19 primary, with Moore locked in a crowded battle for the Democratic nomination, and polls showing a swath of undecided voters — making the contest a jump ball for the well-funded front-runners.

Democrats, who have lost the governor’s mansion in three of the last five elections, are fighting to return the state’s top job back to the party.

Ferguson, who called Moore a friend and a “true leader in the state of Maryland,” said the political newcomer is the “best chance to have a strong Democratic candidate in November” to help Democrats up and down the ballot.

“Wes has a passion for service. … He also has a magnetic ability to inspire and attract great people,” Ferguson said. “I am confident he is ready to bring a talented group together to lead Maryland.”

Mfume said that he took time to study the field and that while Democrats have a bevy of “good, decent and sincere candidates” in the race, Moore “represents a new generation of leadership with the courage to fight and fix the problems we face every day.”

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For months, as Moore’s campaign appeared to gain momentum, questions followed him about whether he had lied about his past, particularly about being born in Baltimore. (For years, the dust jacket blurb of his bestseller “The Other Wes Moore” and promotional materials said he was born in the city, though he was not. The publisher has taken responsibility for the error. It spawned a widespread but false belief he was a Baltimore native.) Moore fought back against questions about his integrity and even asked state prosecutors to investigate who was behind the widely circulated materials questioning his life story.

Ferguson said he has no qualms about Moore or the controversy that surrounded his early campaign. “I know Wes and believe him to be a visionary leader with strong character and values,” he said.

With the latest endorsements, Moore has largely consolidated institutional support across the state. But there are notable exceptions: Montgomery County leaders, labor unions and a few Baltimore elected officials, including state Sen. Cory V. McCray (D) and Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D), are standing behind former U.S. labor secretary Tom Perez; and liberal groups, including Sierra Club Maryland and Our Revolution Maryland, are lining up with former U.S. education secretary John B. King Jr.

The Baltimore endorsements, which come quite late in the contest with some mail-in ballots having already gone out, hail from a battleground region that has been critical in launching candidates to victory in November. And they follow some supporters of former Prince George’s county executive Rushern L. Baker III defecting to Moore when Baker suspended his campaign a week and a half ago.

If someone other than Moore wins next month, that candidate will need to woo the Democratic officials who threw their support behind someone else.

For some leading candidates, that might be a tougher task. State Comptroller Peter Franchot, for example, made his opposition to what he’s called the “Annapolis Machine” a central part of his brand, denigrating legislative leaders for negotiating in private and lining up support before revealing their public plans. Last week, the widow of former gubernatorial candidate Kevin Kamenetz, who once served as Baltimore County executive and often sparred with Franchot over school construction spending, posted a video imploring voters to cast a ballot for “anyone but Franchot.”

In 2018, former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous lost the general election against incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R) after failing to build strong support within the Democratic establishment following his primary victory.

Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College, said he would imagine that Democrats learned a bruising lesson during the last election, four years ago: “When the party doesn’t coalesce behind a candidate, you handicap that candidate.”