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Who is Wes Moore?

The projected Democratic nominee for Maryland’s governor is a political newcomer whose high-profile endorsements helped him break through in a crowded field of established candidates

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore. (Eric Lee for The Washington Post)

Political newcomer Wes Moore’s sparkling résumé, charisma and high-profile endorsements helped catapult him atop a crowded field of candidates with decades more experience.

Moore, 43, counts Oprah Winfrey and Spike Lee among his supporters, alongside powerhouses in Maryland’s Democratic establishment. The best-selling author and former chief of a large poverty-fighting nonprofit built the state’s best-funded campaign and captured the interest of voters concerned with gun violence, inequity, inflation and education.

He overcame questions about whether he failed to correct embellished details about his remarkable life story and appears to have sealed the Democratic nomination for governor.

With the Associated Press calling Moore the projected winner win late Friday, he will square off with Del. Dan Cox, a state lawmaker endorsed by former president Donald Trump, in a November election to succeed term-limited Gov. Larry Hogan (R) that will offer voters a dramatic choice.

Cox has objected to the certification of President Biden’s 2020 victory, wants to make abortion illegal, vigorously fought against coronavirus mitigation measures and wants to limit the role of government. Moore campaigned on helping people often overlooked, protecting abortion rights and healing a fractured society.

“As we wait for the final results, I know that together, we can chart a new path into a bold and better future for our state where we will leave no one behind,” Moore said Thursday on Twitter, as elections officials began counting the mail-in ballots that cemented his lead.

Cox projected to win Maryland’s GOP gubernatorial primary

Moore was locked in a tight contest at the end with former U.S. labor secretary Tom Perez.

On the trail, Moore, a combat veteran and former investment banker, often homed in on his 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.”

Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), one on a long list of supporters, said Moore and his running mate, former delegate Aruna Miller, commanded 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.”

He surged past established candidates such as Peter Franchot, a state comptroller who has held elected office almost as long as Moore has been alive, and Perez, who is entrenched and admired in national party politics. He consolidated support from the state’s Democratic heavy hitters, including 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 also 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 compelling 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, though he once was honored by a regional college football association).

Some discrepancies are rooted in 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 and that his Democratic rivals seized on it to try to dampen his success. Republicans are expected to attack him on it.

“I have nothing to exaggerate about my life,” he said.

Moore was 3 when his father died in front of him after he didn’t get the health care he needed for acute epiglottitis. 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.

Moore takes pride in his story and noted in an interview that he and Miller, both children of immigrants, were the only ticket with 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.”