Tom Perez (D)
Tom Perez paced the banquet room in a suburban seafood restaurant like the trial lawyer he once was, building the case Maryland has been “punching below our weight” on the issues that matter to Democrats.
“Our democracy is on fire right now,” Perez, 60, said as about two dozen Democrats dined on crab cakes and listened as he campaigned to be the next governor. “The one thing we can’t do in this moment is cower in the corner. We have to stand up and fight.”
Perez covered topics with a mastery of detail, at turns dissecting the racial inequity in the state’s three-strikes law, worker protections against silica dust or the agricultural wisdom of growing hemp on the Eastern Shore.
He paused to politely order an IPA, then plowed back into the need for better job training in high schools and the cruel disproportionality of covid-19 deaths among the uninsured. By the time his beer arrived, Perez reached his main point: “We can fix all of these things.”
His sales pitch for governor — a position he’s eyed for years — straddles paradoxes: battle-tested yet idealistic, a candidate with national connections and local roots. He led the Democratic National Committee after Hillary Clinton’s bruising 2016 defeat and was President Barack Obama’s chief civil rights enforcer at the Department of Justice before becoming a Cabinet secretary in charge of the Labor Department. He advocated for immigrant rights, served on the Montgomery County Council and helped steer Maryland through the Great Recession as state labor secretary.
Still, Perez has not been on a Maryland ballot in 20 years — and never statewide. He’s struggled with name recognition in a crowded primary campaign that voters have largely ignored, in a blue state that twice elected a Republican governor in the last eight years.
And despite his deep DNC Rolodex, the party’s heavy hitters have not campaigned in Maryland to press the case for his primary victory — with the notable exception of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is from Baltimore and has ties to the state.
Perez’s campaign bets that his workmanlike approach to “get stuff done” and decades of experience pulling the levers of government distinguishes him in the field of nine Democrats.
“I’m confident that when you make an informed choice,” he told the District 33 Democratic Club, “you’ll choose me.”
‘A dreamer and a doer’
Perez grew up in Buffalo, the youngest of five in a Catholic family led by political refugees who fled dictator Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.
His mother worked at home wrangling the kids. His father was an Army physician. It was, by Perez’s telling, a “Leave-it-to-Beaver” type of neighborhood in a largely White, Rust Belt city where a job at the Bethlehem Steel plant meant a spot in the middle class. His family was “the only diversity” in town, he said.
In 1974, when Perez was 12, his father died of a heart attack. The trauma shaped him. It also fostered what he calls a “surrogate father” relationship with his best friend’s dad, a Teamster who introduced Perez to the power of labor unions, which today have lined up in force behind his bid.
As a high-schooler, Perez cut the lawn of a neighbor who was a Brown University alum and encouraged him to apply. Perez got in, and he worked on garbage trucks in the summer while securing an Ivy League education that now includes a joint degree from Harvard Law School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government.
After clerking for a federal judge in Colorado, he moved to Maryland in 1988 when his wife, lawyer Anne Marie Staudenmaier, got a job at Legal Aid in Frederick. Perez launched his first stint at the Justice Department as a deputy assistant attorney for civil rights. The couple eventually settled in the liberal D.C. suburb of Takoma Park 27 years ago and raised three children.
Perez keeps long-standing loyalties. He still roots for the Buffalo Bills. Every July he takes a trip with his tightknit group of law school buddies. He’s run three Boston marathons, rises early to exercise and avoids caffeine, aside from his afternoon can of Pepsi. He brought it with him to a recent interview at an outdoor restaurant in his adopted hometown.
Off the top of his head, he ticked off in essay form the state’s interlocking problems of crime, wage disparity, mistrust of government and insufficient public transit, affordable child care and education. (He separately discussed climate change and inflation.)
He guffawed at the idea the governorship could be a steppingstone to another political office for himself.
“My sincere hope after we succeed for eight years in Maryland is to able to be, hopefully, a good grandfather by that point,” he said.
Until then, he sees a unique moment to lead the state.
“We have an unbelievable opportunity right now to multitask because we’re never going to have this kind of money from the federal government again in my lifetime,” he said. “I also firmly believe that given the number of really serious challenges, we need a leader who’s both a dreamer and a doer.”
As he talked, passersby stopped to chat: the restaurant host who went to high school with his daughter, a former co-worker at the Democratic National Committee with her toddler in tow, a neighbor he first met working for U.S. senator Edward M. Kennedy in his 30s.
Perez’s campaign noticed voters often view his lengthy résumé one-dimensionally: as the labor guy, or the DNC guy that some of the Bernie Sanders’s wing still looks at askance. And he’s selling competence in a low-interest race while some competitors are selling inspirational slogans.
“What we’re trying to do now is make sure that people see the connective tissue of everything that I’ve done,” Perez said. “And that connective tissue is I have always taken on tough fights.”
‘Most pro-labor governor in the country’
Fights don’t always make friends.
At the end of 2016, Perez had been on the short list to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate, campaigning across the country as a bilingual surrogate skilled at connecting with working-class voters. He was considering a run to be Maryland’s governor, challenging popular incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in the 2018 contest (which Hogan won by nearly 12 percentage points).
Instead, Perez ran to be chair of the DNC — he notes at Obama’s request — as a progressive with ties to the establishment, a campaign aimed at healing the fractures and luring back Bernie Sanders voters.
In what was widely considered a thankless job, Perez drew criticism for diminishing power of the party’s superdelegates in the presidential nominating process, resulting in a vote of no-confidence in him from the Congressional Black Caucus. He wrangled the largest presidential primary field in history in 2020, setting debate rules that kept some candidates with little support or funding off the stage, prompting criticism. He also was tweaked by state party chairs over how the DNC handled Iowa Democratic Party’s inability to count the results in 2020 caucuses.
But Perez says in the way that matters, he was successful: when he took over, Republicans held the White House and both chambers of Congress, but when he left, Democrats were in control across the board.
Perez has taken up local officials’ offers to tour legislative districts, winning over some legislators he just met, such as Del. Robbyn T. Lewis (D-Baltimore City).
“In that half-day interaction, it became so obvious to me that Tom Perez is the right candidate,” said Lewis, who had invited all candidates to join her on such a trip and praised several others.
“It’s no disrespect to any of the other candidates,” she said. “We need a governor who knows how to govern.”
The sharpest criticism of Perez has come from Republicans.
When Obama nominated him for U.S. labor secretary, the late conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh likened him to socialist dictator Hugo Chávez. Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called him a “crusading ideologue.”
Perez has embraced the ideas of leaving no one behind and of being a crusader.
As Maryland’s labor secretary, he used his position to advocate for workers, pushing for the state’s “living wage law” that required government contractors to pay people enough to live on 40 hours a week — often higher than the state’s minimum wage. New regulations protected people from being misclassified as independent contractors, which had deprived them of benefits like unemployment insurance.
As the nation’s top civil rights enforcer from 2009 until 2013, Perez led the Department of Justice division that struck down voter ID laws, sued Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio over violating civil rights of Hispanics and launched a record number of investigations into police departments across the country.
While U.S. labor secretary, Perez pushed through a new overtime rule that nearly doubled the threshold of workers required to be paid overtime, extending extra pay to an estimated 4 million workers and drawing praise from labor unions. (A federal judge blocked the rule before it took effect under the Trump administration.)
Perez also mediated a strike of 40,000 Verizon workers, one many reasons Communications Workers of America President Christopher Shelton praised Perez during a recent gathering.
“If Tom Perez wins, he will be the most pro-labor governor in the country,” Shelton said.
— Erin Cox
Peter Franchot (D)
When Peter V.R. Franchot ran unsuccessfully for Congress more than three decades ago, many in Maryland’s Democratic Party viewed him as a brash outsider. All these years later, even as he runs for governor, that persona remains.
Franchot, 74, has bided his time, his ambition for higher office roiling under the surface over his 16 years as comptroller, frequently poking party leaders in the eye while cultivating his brand as an independently minded, though progressive, fiscal watchdog — and never missing an opportunity to boost his political name recognition.
He’s rushed into political fights to take the side of the everyman, advocating to restore functioning air conditioning to Baltimore City schools, for summers off from school through Labor Day and for small craft beer brewers in competition against big distributors. An avowed populist, Franchot says he likes to stand up for “the little guy,” especially when the opponent is a bigwig.
He’s not afraid to make enemies within his own party, as he did with Thomas V. Mike Miller (D) when Miller was president of the Senate. Or friends within the opposing party, as he did with Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
Franchot’s evolving political stances — which include moving from a progressive voice among state Democrats to allying himself with Hogan — have drawn criticism. He responds that inflexibility as situations change is no virtue.
What has remained constant through decades in public office is his penchant for showmanship. Franchot built name-recognition through gimmicks — crisscrossing the state to deliver awards he invented to businesses and community leaders and splashing his image across legally mandated newspaper advertisements listing the names of owners of unclaimed property.
He’d rather generate media coverage to capture public attention and move an issue (or promote himself, if you ask his detractors) from the outside than work levers of power as an insider.
True to his populist bent, Franchot has said he represents “the little fellers, not the Rockefellers,” though his own upbringing was one of affluence. He grew up in New England, the son of a corporate lawyer, and attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., one of the nation’s most elite prep schools.
As a young man, Franchot left Amherst College to join the presidential campaign of Sen. Eugene McCarthy, lost his student deferment and was drafted in the Vietnam War. After two years of duty and then graduating from college, he worked for environmental and other causes, including the Ralph Nader-affiliated Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
Franchot then went to law school at Northeastern University in Boston, where he met his wife, Anne Maher, now a partner at a D.C. law firm. They have two children and three grandchildren. During the 1980s, Franchot spent six years working as an aide to Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).
Franchot first ran for office in 1986 at the age of 38. In that race to become a state delegate, he recognized a barrier he has worked hard since to overcome. “When you’re in an 11-person race, name recognition is a problem,” he told The Washington Post then. He won.
The next year, he ran to become his district’s Democratic nominee for U.S. House of Representatives, and he won that too.
“He won it because the guy outworks, out-hustles, outtalks, and out-fundraises just about anyone,” David Weaver, his press secretary at the time, said in a recent interview. “He’s got an extraordinary reservoir of energy. If he’s going for something, he works at it.”
Franchot went on to run a spirited, though unsuccessful, general election campaign against the incumbent, Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella. He held frequent news conferences to attack her, at one point holding up a gas mask to criticize a vote she’d cast involving U.S. poison nerve gas weapons.
He then spent two decades in the General Assembly, advocating for gun control, abortion rights, increasing the minimum wage and other liberal causes. It was in 2002 that he began to think seriously about running for governor, according to Len Foxwell, a longtime former top aide. That year, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, won the governor’s race, and Foxwell said he encouraged Franchot to consider vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge Ehrlich the next time around.
Foxwell said Franchot was guided more by political expedience than any set of principles. He cited as an example Franchot’s pivot to oppose slot machines — after co-sponsoring efforts to legalize them in 1998 and 2001 — when Foxwell advised the stance would help him stand out in opposition to Ehrlich and appeal to Black voters and White progressives.
In 2003, Foxwell and Franchot put a line opposing slots into a speech Franchot was to deliver in Easton, a town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. One of Franchot’s first political excursions outside his Montgomery County district, the trip was akin to a small-state governor with presidential ambitions visiting Iowa, Foxwell said.
“We’d written a speech, and it had a number of progressive themes, and people are giving him tepid applause at the appropriate times,” Foxwell said. But when Franchot got to the part about opposing slots, “the room stood up and cheered.”
That evening, as they discussed the day at a pub, Franchot was animated, Foxwell said. “He said, ‘I’m going to go to all 24 counties of the state and fight slots with everything I have.’ ”
Franchot casts his opposition to slots differently, as an outgrowth of his affinity for facing bullies and taking up for the little guy, but acknowledges changing his position. “A lot of these issues are not necessarily popular issues that I step in on,” he said in a recent interview. “Slot machines — everybody wanted slot machines.”
He declined to comment on Foxwell’s account, and his campaign characterized it as a “personal attack.” The two had a falling out in 2020 after nearly two decades of working closely together, and Foxwell served as a consultant to the rival Democratic gubernatorial campaign of Rushern L. Baker III before he pulled out.
Franchot went on to advocate against slots with a sort of religious zeal, saying that “the devil is at the door” and slots opponents would “put the stake through the vampire’s heart.” At one point, he rounded up five gospel choirs for an Annapolis singalong.
He ultimately decided to run for comptroller and won an underdog bid for the Democratic nomination, promising to be “an independent voice and strong fiscal watchdog” and “a real Democrat” who would counter Ehrlich.
From the time he took office, Franchot took a broad approach to the role, which helps oversee state spending but is essentially the state tax collector, expanding his reach and carving out a more public profile than was traditional for the position. The day he was sworn in, Franchot made clear he would loudly oppose slots.
Miller, the Senate president, grumbled to reporters that day that Franchot would learn he was elected to serve as a “tax collector, not as a policymaker,” and Miller would say later that Franchot spent more time “running for governor” than acting as comptroller.
Franchot ultimately lost the fight against slots but may have helped himself in the process. The frequent publicity heightened his visibility, particularly among African Americans.
As 2014 approached, with Democrat Martin O’Malley term-limited from being governor again, Franchot was among several high-profile state Democrats who considered running. But he wasn’t considered a front-runner, and he ultimately decided against it. Instead he coasted through reelection for comptroller.
After Hogan, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, managed an upset win that year, he was quickly befriended by Franchot, with whom he shared many voters. They bonded over strolls along the Ocean City boardwalk and a mutual desire to curb state spending. Franchot dined at the governor’s mansion, something he’d never done with O’Malley.
When 2018 came around, as Hogan enjoyed 70 percent approval ratings and sought reelection, Franchot again shelved his ambition to occupy the governor’s mansion. He also declined to endorse the Democratic nominee, Ben Jealous, and said he wouldn’t vote in the race.
This year, finally, could be Franchot’s chance. He boasts that over his four successful races for comptroller, he has received the most votes of any statewide candidate in Maryland’s history. He has statewide name recognition, which analysts say gives him a sizable advantage. He and his running mate, Prince George’s County Council member Monique Anderson-Walker (D-District 8), started this year with more than $3 million in the bank and had $1.2 million in June, their campaign finance reports show.
Said Franchot: “We’re quietly confident we’re on a path to victory.”
— Steve Thompson
Wes Moore (D)
Oprah Winfrey’s voice cracked as she answered the question: What did she see in Wes Moore a decade ago that convinced her he’d make a great leader?
“What I saw was the same thing I was looking for when I was going through South Africa, building my school. … I was looking for in that space, girls who had it. And I knew it when I saw it,” she said. “It was hard to define to the teachers and the principals what that it thing was, but it’s a level of inner vibrational energy that comes straight out of the authenticity of one’s soul.”
Moore, 43, blushed as Winfrey talked, then he flashed his camera-ready smile.
That “it” factor and a well-rounded record (best-selling author, combat veteran, investment banker and former head of one of the country’s largest poverty-fighting organizations) helped propel Moore to a top-tier bid in a crowded contest for the Democratic nomination for governor.
U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), who recently joined a long list of supporters, said Moore and his running mate, former delegate Aruna Miller, command attention in an otherwise sleepy contest full of qualified candidates, inspiring “the young and old among us to believe again in things that are possible.”
On the trail, Moore often homes in on his own background and what he calls his guiding life principle — that everyone deserves an equal opportunity to succeed, that “no one is left behind.”
“As a state we’ve got to be more competitive, while being more equitable,” he said. “That’s not a binary conversation. … We’ve got to choose both.”
Fresh polls show the political newcomer toe to toe with established candidates such as Peter Franchot, a state comptroller who has held elected office almost as long as Moore has been alive, and Tom Perez, a former U.S. labor secretary who is entrenched in national party politics. Moore has consolidated support from the state’s heavy hitters, including U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, state Senate President Bill Ferguson, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks. He’s also banked more than $7 million over the last cycle, more than any other candidate in the race, and won one of the biggest and most coveted labor endorsements, from the 76,000-strong state teachers union.
But he also has baggage. Almost since the beginning of his run, Moore has been dogged by questions about the remarkable life story that launched him into public view.
A Rhodes scholar raised by a single mother, Moore has a résumé that includes time as a White House fellow and paratrooper in Afghanistan. And while the accomplishments are true, a few reported details surrounding his success are not.
He did not grow up on the tough streets of West Baltimore. He never won a Bronze Star. He’s not in the Maryland College Football Hall of Fame (which doesn’t exist).
Winfrey, whose advice he sought about running and who recently appeared at a virtual fundraiser to boost his campaign, asked Moore during the event about a widely circulated myth that he was born in Baltimore. (He was born in Takoma Park.) A decade ago, even Oprah introduced him incorrectly. And later, so did Stephen Colbert, Princeton University and a curriculum teaching his book to K-12 students, among others.
The origins come from the opening lines on the book jacket of his 2010 bestseller, “The Other Wes Moore”: “Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police.”
Moore said the error was made by his publisher, a mistake he asked it to correct. As articles and TV interviewers repeated the false details, Moore didn’t correct the record.
Instead private opposition research suggests that he let an up-from-the-bootstraps narrative overstate the adversity he encountered. Privately, Democrats who support his rivals say a Moore victory comes with ready-made opposition research that Republicans can easily sharpen into attacks on his integrity — and potentially cost the party the governor’s mansion.
I “didn’t see the need … to call every reporter or every producer out. … It wasn’t some thread where I was like, ‘Let me ride this out,’” Moore said in a recent interview, maintaining that the city helped shape him and that he has what it takes to succeed term-limited Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
His campaign punched back this spring with a criminal complaint against a rival campaign it alleges disseminated a political dossier claiming Moore lied about his past, an allegation he denies.
Moore and his supporters view him as a victim of a smear campaign that highlights microscopic differences in his public comments to destroy his character. They say the criticism is partly based on his campaign’s momentum but also lays bare how race permeates in political campaigns and how it shaped some people’s view of the contest.
When Hoyer, for example, granted Moore his high-profile endorsement this spring, the House majority leader faced questions about whether he thought Moore had embellished his story.
“I asked Wes about that,” Hoyer told reporters who asked about the Bronze Star. “And I am absolutely convinced that Wes has told the truth on all of these matters.”
Moore said if his rivals want to attack him, they can bring it on.
“I have nothing to exaggerate about my life,” he said.
Moore was 3 years old when his father died in front of him because he didn’t get the health care he needed for acute epiglottitis, Moore said in an interview. His widowed mother, an immigrant from Jamaica, moved him and his two sisters to the Bronx, where they lived with his grandparents, a minister and a longtime educator.
By 11 years old, Moore said he “felt handcuffs on his wrist,” after police detained him for spray-painting, and after years of being told to straighten up, he was sent off to military school by age 13. His mother had moved back to Maryland by then, and Moore was spending time in Baltimore, where he now lives with his wife, Dawn, and their two children. After graduating from Valley Forge Military College, he would go on to become the first Black Rhodes scholar from Johns Hopkins University, a White House fellow, an investment banker, a veteran and a chief executive of a large nonprofit.
He had flirted with the idea of running for office before, when several power players, including local elected officials, approached him about running for mayor of Baltimore. He opted against it, he said, because his children were too young. He jumped into the governor’s race with his wife, whom he has called his “secret weapon,” by his side. Dawn Moore has a long history in Maryland politics, having worked on gubernatorial campaigns for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Martin O’Malley and in the administration of then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Moore acknowledges that there are candidates in the governor’s race with more political experience and greater name recognition than he has but said that doesn’t mean they are suited to lead in this moment.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman was one of the first elected officials to endorse Moore almost a year ago. He said he was looking for someone who could unite people across political divides and watched as Moore easily connected with business owners and workers alike.
“He can get the business community behind his agenda,” said Pittman, who said he is most concerned about economic disparities. “The fact that he worked on Wall Street and learned how investment decisions get made and he took that knowledge to the Robin Hood Foundation to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in fighting poverty effectively, to me, shows this is a guy who has taken the time to learn how our economy works, and he also has a real talent for politics.”
Moore said he and Miller, both children of immigrants, are the only ticket that has legislative, executive, military and nonprofit experience.
“People are looking for someone who has worked across sectors to get big things done,” he said. “Right now, people are not necessarily looking for the same people with the same ideas. They want us to be bold. They want Maryland to do big things.”
Among those big things, he said, are helping older residents stay in Maryland and addressing climate change and economic disparities.
Moore said he wants to work to fix the policies that have sent retirees packing to other states. Maryland also has to close the racial wealth gap, he said, because “it’s real and it’s growing. … This is a moment where we can really be thoughtful and close it, or we’re going to watch this thing explode in a way that we’re never going to be able to recover.”
Moore said he plans to bring all sectors together to address issues such as the environment, which has forced students to leave hot school buildings when temperatures soar, resulted in higher asthma rates in cities such as Baltimore and caused “once in a century” flooding every few years.
“We need the private sector, we need nonprofit organizations, we need philanthropy,” he said. “We need executive and legislative leadership. We need the people. And that’s the approach that I know that I’m going to take in terms of how we get this done on Day One.”
— Ovetta Wiggins, Erin Cox
John B. King Jr. (D)
Once a troubled teen expelled from high school, John B. King Jr. knows what it’s like to be scolded.
But at a recent gala with roughly 700 Democratic Party loyalists in the audience, King — a Harvard- and Yale-educated lawyer and former high school social studies teacher — was the one doing the reprimanding.
King, 47, took the stage to share his vision for Maryland as one of 10 candidates vying for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, and, in less than three minutes, blasted the party establishment for “not doing enough” to improve education outcomes, to help the uninsured and to address the climate crisis.
“We need to stop acting like the party of Hogan Democrats and Joe Manchin III Democrats who think that people who are struggling should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and start acting like the party of FDR Democrats … the party of Obama Democrats … and the party of Raskin Democrats,” he said, making a final reference to last year’s lead House impeachment manager, Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who was a strong proponent of liberal issues when he served in the state General Assembly.
The U.S. education secretary under President Barack Obama, who has held numerous political appointments, has spent years around politicians but has never been elected to public office. King supports a bold agenda that includes universal, affordable child care and ending the state’s reliance on fossil fuels, pledging 100 percent clean energy use in all Maryland public buildings by 2030. He calls health care a “human right,” and wants to create a program that provides health care for all, regardless of immigration status.
In the final weeks of the campaign he’s distinguished himself as the choice of a number of liberal organizations, including Sierra Club Maryland, Pro-Choice Maryland and Our Revolution Maryland.
King said he is modeling his campaign after that of Raskin, who “also faced millionaires and celebrities” in his competitive, crowded primary in 2016 to win the 8th Congressional District seat.
But, unlike King, Raskin, who served nearly a decade in the General Assembly, had name recognition and a legislative record that allowed him to quickly emerge as a front-runner in the primary. King is battling to be recognized as a top-tier candidate in his race, where others have raked in bigger endorsements and are sitting on heftier war chests.
King said he decided to launch his first political campaign after a career in public service because he saw the inequities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic and viewed it as a “New Deal moment,” when the state could confront deeper systemic challenges.
“I really became convinced that the next governor is going to be uniquely positioned to make government a force for good in people’s lives and that’s always been my mission, you know, because of the role public school played in my life as a kid,” he said during a recent interview.
King was orphaned when he was 12 and spent his formative years bouncing from one relative’s home to another. King’s classrooms became his safe haven, and his teachers, the only trusted adults in his life. His mother, a public school teacher, died of a heart attack when he was 8. His father, a lifelong educator who had been the first African American principal in Brooklyn, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
After his father died, King won a scholarship to an elite boarding school where he ran into trouble and ultimately was expelled. He settled in New Jersey with his aunt and uncle, who provided him stability and structure.
“As I think about public policy, I’m very conscious that I was lucky, you know, and I say to folks, my story is not about me being special. It’s about the special people and institutions that intervened in my life that made it possible for me to have the opportunities that I’ve had,” he said.
King, who received a doctorate in education administration from Columbia, worked as a high school social studies teacher and a middle school principal, and founded a charter school in Boston before he became the top education official in New York state.
He faced fierce criticism in New York, battling parents over Common Core testing and teachers over evaluations. In 2015, a New York teacher sued King, then the former state commissioner, over the evaluation method, which sometimes factored in a school’s reading and math test scores into a teacher’s evaluation. The evaluation method, known as value-added measurement (or modeling) was embraced by the Obama administration. By the time the lawsuit was filed he was already working as an adviser at the U.S. Department of Education. He was eventually named secretary in Obama’s final year in office.
He founded Strong Future Maryland — a 501(c) (4) advocacy organization — in 2020, and it has pushed for liberal policies, including the abolition of life sentences without parole for juveniles, emergency relief for renters, and collective bargaining for employees at public universities.
“John is one of the most thoughtful, committed public servants I know,” said Arne Duncan, who was King’s predecessor as education secretary. Duncan, who left his post in the Obama Cabinet early, said he remembered the White House asking him for 10 names of candidates to fill his position. “I was thinking I could give you 20 names, but there’s only one person you should hire and it’s John,” he said.
Duncan described King as a “real easy going guy,” but said people shouldn’t underestimate him because of his mild-mannered nature.
“Sometimes people mistake that kindness for weakness, and there’s a backbone of steel there, and that was always true to Barack and that’s true to John,” Duncan said.
With education a top issue of voters, King says he is best suited to address “the kind of made up issue of critical race theory” Republicans could use as a lever to divide voters in November.
He made it the focus of his first ad, where he introduced himself to voters earlier this year. In it, he says the gaps in health, wealth and criminal justice in America are tied to the history of slavery, segregation and redlining. He shares his own story, of having ancestors who were enslaved in a cabin less than 25 miles from his home in Montgomery County.
“It’s important to cover African American history, Latino history, Asian American history, the contributions of different communities to the country’s history,” King said. “It’s also important to tell the hard parts and to tell the story of Japanese-American internment, to share the times when we’ve slid backward as a society, I think, and there’s a direct line connection between the KKK and in the post-Civil War period after slavery ended and what happened in Buffalo. And so students need to understand that.”
— Ovetta Wiggins
Doug Gansler (D)
Doug Gansler quickly climbed the stone pathway leading to the front door of a home in Chevy Chase, just north of the D.C. border, ready to deliver a firm handshake and to-the-point message: “Hi, I’m Doug Gansler. I’m running for governor and I grew up a couple doors down.”
The former Maryland attorney general, who has spent 23 years in government service, wants another shot at the governor’s mansion after losing a primary election in 2014 in a bid that was derailed by two scandals. This year, he’s running on a moderate agenda that centers on fighting crime and protecting the environment — issues he said he’s uniquely qualified to address and hopes will set him apart in a crowded, nine-person Democratic primary.
“With crime exploding, and climate change being real, those are areas that I’m uniquely qualified to lead on and have led on,” Gansler said. “We’re the right team for this moment, given the issues of the day.”
With just over $1 million on hand as of June and weeks remaining until the primary, Gansler leans into his record as attorney general to distinguish himself as all Democratic candidates in this blue state that elected a Republican governor twice in eight years struggle to break through.
He said establishment Democrats in search of a moderate candidate with wide appeal for the general election nudged him to reenter the arena. Gansler agreed that he could be that candidate. The uphill battle will be getting the Democratic nomination in the crowded pool.
“I’m the only pro-business, pro-public safety, moderate Democrat in the field, but I work with progressives all the time on progressive issues,” Gansler said during a recent interview. “The question is, does the Democratic Party want to willingly commit political suicide, and do the same thing we’ve done in the last bunch of elections? We’ve lost three of the last five elections, the most Democratic state in the country.”
As Maryland attorney general from 2007 to 2015, Gansler conducted environmental audits to identify pollutants and help clean the Chesapeake Bay, expanded the prosecution of gangs and — before same-sex marriage became legal in Maryland — wrote an opinion that Maryland should recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states and that state agencies should recognize same-sex married couples with the same rights.
When he competed with then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and then-Del. Heather Mizeur for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2014, Gansler was initially considered an early favorite. He ultimately lost to Brown after his campaign was marked by allegations that he ordered state troopers to speed while driving him to routine appointments and photos of him surfaced at a high school beach party where there appeared to be underage drinking occurring, which he said at the time he did not investigate because he was focused on checking in with his son. Gansler brushed off the incidents in a recent interview, refuting the state trooper allegations and noting the party occurred 10 years ago.
Confident that’s in the past, Gansler said he is feeling energized by this year’s campaign. He’s running with former Hyattsville Mayor Candace Bacchus Hollingsworth, who was elected in 2015 as the city’s youngest and first Black mayor and now works with Our Black Party, a national organization she co-founded to build the relationship between the Black community and the political system.
Gansler started his career in politics at 13 knocking on doors for Frank Mankiewicz, who was running for Congress. He first moved to Montgomery County from New Jersey when he was a kid for his father’s work as assistant secretary of defense, appointed by President Richard M. Nixon — an early government service influence. It was supposed to be a temporary move, but the Ganslers stuck around.
Gansler continued to work on campaigns throughout his time at Yale and until he graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law, when he then began clerking for the Maryland Court of Appeals. He then headed to D.C. to work for the U.S. attorney’s office.
While serving as Montgomery County state’s attorney, he garnered national attention for high-profile prosecutions like boxer Mike Tyson’s road-rage attack in Gaithersburg in 1998 and the Washington-area sniper shootings in 2002.
He said he was also proud of implementing drug courts, domestic violence dockets and community prosecution, in which prosecution is assigned by neighborhood rather than crime categories. If elected as governor, Gansler said he would like to bring all those initiative statewide.
In his first TV ad, released earlier last month, Gansler focused on his tough-on-crime approach. The spot opens with a scene of a carjacking, followed by Gansler appearing on the screen to discuss how he would keep Marylanders safe: hire 1,000 new officers trained in violence de-escalation, install 10,000 new streetlights and get guns off the street.
“A balanced approach to safety and justice,” he says at the end of the ad.
Vivek Chopra, who worked with Gansler for about five years as assistant Montgomery County state’s attorney, said he was a tough boss, but someone who cares deeply about serving others and creating an environment for good lawyers to excel. His experience and leadership make him the right candidate for governor, he said.
“You have to motivate law enforcement to do the right thing and also aggressively enforce the laws, and law enforcement feels abandoned by most Democratic politicians right now. For better or for worse, I think that’s the feeling,” Chopra said. “I think Doug can strike the right balance with justice support, because a lot of the critiques of law enforcement recently have been right and fair, and he gets it, he always has.”
“Doug can be glib, he’s social,” Chopra said, “but, Doug really cares.”
Outside of politics, Gansler enjoys playing lacrosse — he started Charm City Youth Lacrosse League to bring the sport to underserved communities in Baltimore — and reading — he started a book club in 1989 that’s still running today.
On a recent Friday afternoon, beading sweat in temperatures reaching the high 90s, Gansler addressed a small group of volunteers that would be helping knocking on doors and handing out fliers in his childhood neighborhood.
“If no one answers, just leave it,” Gansler said about the fliers. “They’ll remember we came and no one else did.”
— Karina Elwood
Kelly M. Schulz (R)
Kelly M. Schulz, 53, had just started her speech when the topic of her former boss, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), came up.
“You know, back in 2015, when Governor Hogan asked me —,” she paused. “Thank you, Governor Hogan,” she said, smiling as she bowed to an imaginary Hogan figure. Gathered in front of Schulz at a brewery in Ellicott City one recent evening, several dozen Republicans cheered.
In her bid to become Maryland’s next GOP governor, Schulz has actively sought to tie herself to Hogan, an uncharacteristically popular Republican in a widely Democratic state. She has many of the tools needed to position herself as a Hogan’s protege, including his full-throated endorsement and a seven-year run as a top-ranking secretary in his Cabinet.
But whether she can walk the same tightrope that Hogan did over two terms — winning over Independents and moderate Democrats without alienating the state’s Republican base — remains to be seen, observers say.
The only woman in Maryland’s crowded gubernatorial race, she has to navigate the rightward pull of her own party while staving off attacks from a bevy of Democratic challengers eager to flip the governor’s seat. The coalition she needs to win the primary in July and then the general election in November, experts say, could be buoyed by the broad frustration toward inflation, but threatened by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which could push Independents away from the GOP while energizing liberal voters.
Democratic strategists have already started to zero in on Schulz’s voting record as a Frederick County delegate in the Maryland House, where she pushed several times to limit abortion, including with an amendment in 2012 that would have withheld state funds from going toward abortion providers. (The amendment failed.) Schulz has said more recently that while she is “personally pro-life,” she would not change any laws regarding abortion if she were elected governor.
“Hogan was elected before the peak of many of our current ‘culture war’ discussions,” said Chryl Laird, an assistant professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, citing the campaigns that Republicans have launched in recent years against “critical race theory” and LGTBQ rights. “[Schulz] right now is in a different space.”
While Hogan has been an outspoken Trump critic, Schulz cannot afford at this point to sideline supporters of the former president, Laird said. In the primary, where turnout tends to be higher among more ideological voters, she faces three opponents, including Maryland Del. Daniel L. Cox (R), a Trump-endorsed, staunchly conservative lawmaker also from Frederick. But drawing herself too close to the former president also has its hitches: In the 2020 general election, Marylanders voted 2-to-1 against Trump.
“There are not enough Republicans in Maryland for us to be different types,” said Loretta Shields, co-chair of Women for Kelly, which hosted the campaign event for Schulz in Howard. Shields said she supports both Trump and Hogan but notes that neither is on the ticket for Maryland governor. She sees Schulz as the only Republican candidate who can capture both their followers and avert one-party rule in Maryland, where Democrats control both the legislature and the attorney general’s office.
Diana Waterman, former chair of the Maryland Republican Party, put it more bluntly to the Republicans gathered at the Howard event: “If that other person,” she said, seemingly referring to Cox, “If they are our nominee, we have given it to the Democrats.”
Seen as part of the Republican establishment in Maryland, Schulz served as an aide in the Maryland House Republican Caucus and an appointee to the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush before running for the Maryland House in 2010. After beating an incumbent in the primary by seven votes, she was appointed to the Economic Matters Committee in the House, where colleagues say she advocated for small businesses.
“I enjoyed working with Kelly,” said Dereck E. Davis, Maryland’s state treasurer and a former Democratic House delegate who chaired the Economic Matters Committee when Schulz was a member. “We didn’t always agree on what was an impediment to business versus what was prudent regulation, but she respected the fact that not everybody shared her viewpoint.”
When Hogan was elected, he tapped Schulz to serve as his labor secretary and then as his commerce secretary, positions in which she was able to continue working with elected officials from both parties. During the pandemic, when Hogan announced relief for businesses affected by shutdowns or when he unveiled the state’s economic recovery plan, Schulz was standing by his side.
Melissa Deckman, chair of the political science department at Washington College, said it’s a savvy strategy for Schulz to pitch herself as a continuation of Hogan, who is leaving office with a historic budget surplus and sky-high approval ratings. But whether this will be enough to win over voters is unclear.
“How far is his reach? Is he the unique personality? Or can what he represents extend to a member of his Cabinet?” Deckman asked, referring to Hogan. “These are questions we’ll have to see play out.”
Schulz has largely tried so far to stay above the fray of the fissures that have divided her party on a national level, rarely even mentioning Cox by name. Instead, she has sought to draw attention to issues with more bipartisan support, promising to expand school choice, repeal a state tax that pegs gas taxes to inflation and “treat criminals like criminals.” She has emphasized her track record of working with lawmakers across party lines and highlighted aspects of her personal identity in ways that hearken to the GOP’s “traditional values,” Laird observed, from the centrality of the nuclear family to individual choice.
In her first television ad, Schulz unveiled a “parental bill of rights” promising to keep “schools open” and “masks off.”
“She’s centered her identity as a mother and a parent and a caregiver before even saying she’s a politician,” Laird said. “She’s trying to get to the voter directly and say, ‘I am you.’ ”
Born in Michigan, Schulz moved to Maryland after dropping out of college to raise her first child at the age of 19. She worked as a waitress and a bartender before eventually finishing her degree at Hood College when she was 37. If elected, she who would be Maryland’s first female governor.
“Because I was that young mom and wife, because I was that state delegate, but most of all, because I was that waitress who busted her ass to support her family, I’m uniquely qualified to be your next governor,” Schulz said at the Howard event.
Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), the outgoing minority whip in the House, said she’s been glad to see Schulz rise in rank over the last decade even though she has never found Schulz to be “politically ambitious.”
“She represents me, and she represents other women,” said Szeliga, who was elected into the House the same year as Schulz.
This perspective is unlikely to resonate with liberal women, but could be potent among Independents and moderate Democrats, said Valerie Ervin, a Montgomery Democrat who ran for governor in 2018.
“Kelly is a woman like so many in Maryland who had to work her entire life,” Ervin said. “And she’s coming into the statewide gubernatorial race at the right moment — everyone is wondering where the women are.”
— Rebecca Tan
Daniel L. Cox (R)
Conservative Republican Del. Daniel L. Cox vigorously fought against the certification of President Biden’s 2020 victory and Maryland’s coronavirus mitigation measures.
He launched a failed attempt to impeach Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, accusing him of malfeasance in office, theft of “the people’s liberty and property” and “deprivation of the religious liberties of the people.”
Now, as Cox seeks the Republican nomination for Maryland governor, he is locked in a tight battle with Hogan-endorsed Kelly M. Schulz, the former state commerce secretary, in a race shaped by deep divisions across the country between members of the GOP establishment and supporters of former president Trump.
A recent Goucher College poll, conducted in partnership with the Baltimore Banner and WYPR-88.1, found Cox and Schulz in a statistical dead heat, with Cox capturing 25 percent of the vote and Schulz 22 percent. A majority of likely Republican voters were undecided.
“It may be Maryland, but Republicans are Republicans, and Trump is incredibly popular among Republicans, and he’s immensely popular among the base of the party,” Todd Eberly, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said of the Republican primary. “Cox is the perfect candidate for an election that is all about the base, and when most folks aren’t paying attention.”
Cox, 47, campaigns on hard-right stances he hopes will lift him to a win as they did Doug Mastriano in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial primary: dramatically restricting abortions, banning mask and vaccine mandates for the coronavirus, fighting against transgender rights and demanding a federal audit of the 2020 elections.
Similar to Mastriano, Cox chartered buses for the Trump rally near the White House that preceded the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. They both attended a conference in Gettysburg, Pa., this spring that promoted QAnon and baseless claims about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. According to published reports, Cox was joined there by Liz Harrington, a spokeswoman for Trump, and former Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis.
Schulz’s campaign has labeled Cox “unstable” and “unfit for office.” Last year, Hogan, her former boss, called him a “QAnon whack job.” Meanwhile in a recent phone call to rally Cox supporters, Trump called Cox “a highly respected lawyer who is tough and smart … Dan is MAGA all the way. Unlike his opponent named Kelly Schulz who along with Larry Hogan, bad news.”
Cox, who did not respond to calls seeking comment, told the hundreds — including Mastriano and former U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes — gathered at a Carroll County farm in sweltering summer heat recently that his campaign, run by one of his daughters, was outpacing the deep-pocketed Schulz campaign.
“We are running ahead in the polls, we are strong, we are organized. … We are getting out the message,” he said.
He asked his supporters a string of questions based on his platform. Who among them believed, like his opponent, he asked, that the events of Jan. 6 were an insurrection and that Trump was responsible for it? The crowd booed. Who thought providing taxpayer-funded abortions to trafficked women from other states and countries was acceptable? The crowd yelled, “No!”
“We’re going to defund the taxpayer-paid abortions,” Cox said to cheers.
Cox said he also wants to see changes in the state’s gun-control laws, including gun-permit laws, a red-flag law that allows the seizure of guns from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, and a ghost-gun law that prohibits the assembly of homemade firearms.
“I intend to change all of that,” the one-term delegate from Frederick County said. “These are our freedoms; these are our rights. They can’t take them from us. This is how we protect ourselves. With the riots that have happened, we should have something to defend our families with.”
He called for his supporters to donate to his campaign (in recent filings he had $188,000 to spend compared with Schulz’s $784,900), and to bump up their outreach efforts to “crush the liberal wing of the party.”
Cox, who was first elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 2018, is one of the most conservative figures in the state legislature.
In the past year, he was the prime sponsor on bills seeking to restrict abortions; limit the governor’s authority in states of emergency; and require that schools provide parents information about the health and well-being of their children. Child welfare advocates argued that schools’ reporting on children could in some instances — including in child-abuse cases — expose children to additional harm.
Cox graduated from Regent University School of Law in 2006, according to his legislative biography. He was born in Washington, D.C., and attended Walkersville Christian Family Schools, where he would later become a teacher. He has also worked as a real estate agent but now runs his own law firm, which sued Hogan over coronavirus restrictions and stay-at-home orders during the pandemic. He also represented a Harford County man who sued local officials for arresting him at a polling place for not wearing a mask during the pandemic.
“I’m the only candidate that’s willing to give people their freedom back,” Cox told the rally, calling the 2020 election a fraud and planting a “stop the steal” seed about the upcoming Maryland election. “I’m an ‘America First’ Republican. We’re going to win.”
— Ovetta Wiggins
At one point during the 2022 primary, there were 15 candidates lined up to fill the seat being vacated by term-limited Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
Eleven Democrats and four Republicans.
As the race enters its final weeks, the field has largely remained unchanged. Laura Neuman (D), a former Anne Arundel County executive, bowed out in April. Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) paused his bid in June, but he will remain on the ballot.
Among those vying for the Democratic nomination are former U.S. labor secretary Tom Perez, best-selling author and former nonprofit chief Wes Moore, state Comptroller Peter Franchot, former attorney general Doug Gansler and former U.S. education secretary John B. King Jr.
The Republican side includes Hogan mentee and former state commerce secretary Kelly Schulz and Trump-endorsed state delegate Dan Cox.
The other candidates, who have little chance of winning their party’s nomination, according to polls, include a socialist who once ran for president, a disbarred attorney and a millennial who wants to be the youngest person in the country to hold the position.
Here are the candidates rounding out the Democratic field:
Jon Baron, 59, is a former government employee and nonprofit executive who founded a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes evidence-based solutions to government problems.
Baron mounted his first run for elected office last year and has pumped $1.7 million of his own money into his campaign. In his first TV ad, Baron and his candidate for lieutenant governor, Natalie Williams, can be seen pedaling on a tandem bike going nowhere, illustrating the lack of progress, he said, the state has made on education and the economy.
A lead idea on his agenda is pairing first- and second-graders with retirees and recent college graduates for one-on-one tutoring, noting studies that have proven its success.
Baron, who lives in Montgomery County, received his bachelor’s degree from Rice University, a master’s from Princeton University and a law degree from Yale Law School.
Ashwani Jain opens each candidate forum quickly rattling off details about himself: “I use he/him pronouns. I’m a 32-year old cancer survivor who is also the son of immigrants. I’m a product of Maryland public schools.”
“I’m running for governor to make our politics more inclusive and accessible,” said Jain during a recent forum. He said during his cancer battle as a teenager “many people were making decisions for me, instead of making them with me.”
As the youngest candidate in the race, Jain also has the shortest resume. According to his LinkedIn profile, he spent about a year as an outreach and recruitment assistant working at the White House, a year working for the U.S. Department of Housing as a liaison to the White House and another year in two other federal jobs. He is now working as a local program director for the National Kidney Foundation.
Jain is one of 33 Democrats who competed for four at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council in 2018. He finished eighth in the race.
Jerome M. Segal, 78, a philosopher, progressive activist and former candidate for U.S. Senate, ran for president in 2020 as the nominee of the Bread and Roses Party, a socialist party that he created.
Segal founded the party, he said, because he wants third parties to be more active on the national stage. He collected more than 15,000 signatures on a petition to get the state to officially recognize the party.
Last year, he disbanded the party, which had a little over 1,000 registered voters in Maryland, and launched a bid for the Democratic nomination for the state’s top job.
Segal’s agenda includes a legal guarantee of 32 hours of paid employment, allowing a four-day workweek, and free education from pre-K through college.
Ralph W. Jaffe, 80, is a retired teacher who has run several times for governor or U.S. Senate since 1992. Jaffe has said his campaigns are to push different ideas and is used as a “teaching device” for his students.
In 2018, Jaffe’s wife, Freda, ran as his running mate. They picked up 1.6 percent of the vote.
In an interview with WTOP, Jaffe has criticized the Blueprint for Education, a multibillion-dollar educational plan to improve outcomes in Maryland schools, calling it “a joke,” and suggested media outlets hold telethons to pay for more police officers.
Rushern L. Baker III, 63, drew on his decades of public service in Maryland to launch his second bid for governor, hoping grass-roots support would yield momentum even as he took the risk of relying on the state’s public financing system.
The choice limited his campaign to in-state contributions of up to $250 each as several front-runners amassed war chests exceeding $1 million, expanding the reach of their message to voters who remain largely undecided as the primary looms.
Baker, who largely receded from public life after his 2018 primary loss, remains on the ballot because election law left him little option. As a publicly financed candidate, Baker would have been forced to repay the money the state poured into his campaign if he formally withdrew from the race.
Here is the balance of the Republican contest:
Robin Ficker, 79, is an outspoken and colorful perennial candidate who has run for various local and state offices for a half-century. In 1972, he ran for Congress. He launched six campaigns within the next decade. In 1978, he was elected to serve in the Maryland House of Delegates. Three months later he made another run for Congress.
Ficker was disbarred from practicing law this year under a ruling from the state’s top court after a complaint initiated by the Attorney Grievance Commission. At the time, Ficker, who has a long history of professional misconduct complaints with the bar counsel, said the action was a “political decision … it’s judges and lawyers complaining.”
The disbarment stems from a case in which Ficker failed to appear for trial and made other missteps.
In the governor’s race, Ficker’s top item on his agenda is cutting the state’s sales tax by 2 cents. The current rate is 6 cents for every dollar spent, with exceptions on certain items. Ficker has loaned his campaign $1.2 million and according to the most recent filings, has $327,000 on hand, which puts him behind Schulz in GOP fundraising.
Joe Werner, 62, an attorney, is making his first bid for public office as a Republican.
He has run three times for local and state races as a Democrat. In 2014, he ran for Harford County executive. In 2016 he ran to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md) in the first congressional district. Harris crushed Werner by a 2-to-1 margin, with 67 percent of the vote. In 2018, he ran for a Democratic seat in the Maryland House of Delegates.
Asked about his party switch, Warner said in an interview with Fox45 that he has always been a moderate who is “now more solidly” against abortion. He said he also supports gun rights. “Maryland is becoming more and more like California, you’re losing your rights and you’ve got more and more government coming in,” he said.
— Ovetta Wiggins