The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hogan calls GOP gubernatorial nominee mentally unstable

Dan Cox swatted back, and also labeled his Democratic challenger Wes Moore a ‘socialist’ as the campaign begins to shift tone

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) arrives for a news conference about coronavirus updates on Feb. 8. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has ratcheted up the rhetoric about GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, describing him earlier this week as mentally unstable.

Hogan, who has previously called Cox a “QAnon whack job,” described the GOP nominee as “a nut” during a recent radio interview and reiterated his prediction that Cox has “no chance whatsoever” of being elected as Maryland’s governor in November.

“He’s not, in my opinion, mentally stable,” Hogan, who is term-limited, said Wednesday on WGMD radio, based on the Eastern Shore. “He wanted to hang my friend, Mike Pence, and took three busloads of people to the Capitol.”

Cox, a Republican delegate from Frederick, handily defeated Hogan-endorsed candidate Kelly Schulz last month in a primary largely viewed as a proxy war between Hogan, who has presidential ambitions, and former president Donald Trump, who endorsed Cox. In January 2021, Cox tweeted that he was organizing buses to the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6. During the insurrection, he tweeted that Vice President Mike Pence was “a traitor,” though he later apologized for his language while facing a legislative ethics inquiry.

The popular outgoing governor’s denigrations of Cox have shown no sign of slowing, and coupled with Cox’s own comments this week, signaled a potential shift in tone for the race.

“Hogan has a problem with telling the truth and mounting smear antics,” Cox said in a statement. “As a lifelong Marylander, father of 10 children and experienced state delegate, businessman and attorney at law, the people of Maryland and I trounced Hogan’s lockdown agenda candidate. And I intend to do it again this fall by unifying Maryland to win big for freedom.”

Cox’s campaign is seen as a long shot in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin. And Hogan’s repeated attempts to paint Cox, a first-term delegate and a relative unknown across the state, as unfit to replace him probably will dampen Cox’s efforts to lure the Democratic voters and independents he would need to win.

Hogan’s comments were not the only example of unrestrained rhetoric swirling around the top of the ticket.

Earlier this week, Cox agreed when his running mate, Gordana Schifanelli, said, This is not a campaign [of] Republican versus Democrat. This is a campaign between freedom and a socialist-communist politics that has driven the people of this state to the ground.”

Cox said he “absolutely” agreed that Moore promoted socialist and communist ideas, citing a Moore campaign invitation that required proof of vaccination and later labeling the teaching of the history of race in schools and discussion of gender identity as socialist causes.

“The socialist model is a top-down model that requires more government control of our education. And we’re seeing that he is advocating that. You can’t even attend his events without a vaccination passport of an experimental vaccination. That’s an egregious overstep,” Cox told reporters Monday at the opening of his Annapolis campaign headquarters.

He went on to criticize teaching about gender identity to children in third grade or younger, which is not a specific policy Moore endorsed. Cox also criticized Moore for supposedly embracing “CRT,” an acronym for critical race theory, an intellectual movement that examines the way policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism. Critical race theory is not taught in Maryland schools; Moore has not advocated that it should be.

“He’s going to have a hard time getting voters to believe I’m a communist or a socialist,” Moore said in a Thursday interview, noting he has led soldiers in combat and built a business.

He faulted Cox for talking in “trite” rhetoric inspired by Trump and dodging substantive policy ideas.

“It’s not surprising because Dan Cox doesn’t have policies to talk about,” Moore said. He’s not talking about issues.”

During his radio interview, Hogan said he has no plans to campaign for Cox, who sued him for imposing coronavirus restrictions at the height of the pandemic and attempted to impeach him earlier this year for those and other actions.

Hogan said he will stump for several GOP candidates in down-ballot races, including some running for Congress, state Senate and county executive. He will continue to campaign for GOP candidates across the country and also work to help his daughter, Jaymi Sterling, in her bid for state’s attorney in St. Mary’s County.

“The people I think are worth supporting I’m going to go out and support,” he said. “I think that makes your endorsement more meaningful than just saying I’m going to automatically endorse every Republican, even if they’re crazy.”

Hogan’s presidential ambitions undampened after Tuesday’s primary

Asked if he is hurting the GOP by not backing its gubernatorial nominee, the governor said his decision not to endorse Cox, who he described as “not a typical candidate,” does not make him disloyal to his party.

“I’ve been a loyal Republican since I was 18,” he said. “I’ve been involved in every single election, but that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to support wacky people that I don’t agree with or like anything about them.”

Hogan did not vote for Trump in 2016 in his first run for office or in 2020 for his reelection bid. In 2016, Hogan wrote in his father’s name, Larry Hogan Sr., a former congressman. His choice two years ago, he said, was former president Ronald Reagan.