The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Poll: Wes Moore leads big against Dan Cox in Md. governor’s race

Democrats lead by a wide margin in all statewide contests, Goucher poll finds. Recreational marijuana also has broad support.

Del. Dan Cox (Frederick), left, a Maryland state legislator, is the Republican nominee for governor; Wes Moore is his Democratic opponent. (Brian Witte/AP ; Eric Lee for The Washington Post)

Democrat Wes Moore holds a 22 percentage point lead over Republican Dan Cox in Maryland’s race for governor, according to a poll released Monday.

The first public polling in the contest, released seven weeks ahead of Election Day, suggests that most voters in the deeply blue state have already made up their minds, and Moore’s large lead is unlikely to shrink enough for Cox to win, said Mileah Kromer, director of Goucher College’s Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics.

“People know what they’re doing,” Kromer said. “Not only are there few undecided, there’s very few people who are willing to change their minds. I would not describe this race as fluid.”

The polling from Goucher, in partnership with the Baltimore Banner and WYPR, also showed Democrats leading in all statewide races by 13 percentage points or more, including attorney general, comptroller and the U.S. Senate.

“It’s shaping up to be a potential sweep for Democrats at the state level,” Kromer said.

Moore led Cox 53 percent to 31 percent, with 9 percent of voters undecided, 4 percent supporting Libertarian candidate David Lashar and 2 percent backing Green Party candidate Nancy Wallace. Sixty-nine percent of voters said they were “set on this candidate,” and the poll has a 3.1 percentage point margin of error.

Voters said they viewed Cox as linked to former president Donald Trump, whose endorsement helped lift the first-term delegate to win July’s primary over a more moderate candidate. Cox has embraced some of Trump’s rhetoric, including joining the Jan. 6, 2021, rally and calling the 2020 election “stolen.”

Since the primary, Cox has removed some of the prominent references to Trump from his website. He deleted his social media account on Gab, a platform that permits hate speech forbidden elsewhere. And at a forum last week he described himself as a candidate with a “middle-temperament approach.”

Despite that pivot, the Goucher poll showed that voters perceive him differently: 35 percent viewed him as either “far or extreme right,” and another 24 percent viewed him as “conservative.”

Maryland Democrats make up more than half of registered voters — making it critical for Cox to appeal to them to win.

“There is no amount of deleting Gab, no amount of messaging at this point, I think, [that] can undo the fact that he’s been endorsed by Trump and has embraced Trumpism,” Kromer said. “That association with Trump, that’s all Democrats need to know.”

Cox and his running mate, Gordana Schifanelli, have described Moore as a “socialist” and cautioned that his policies are out of step with Maryland voters. The poll suggests that message hasn’t taken hold, with 58 percent viewing Moore as either “moderate” or “progressive or liberal.”

“Wes Moore falls pretty much where you’d expect, which is center left,” Kromer said. “People don’t think he’s an extremist. He falls somewhere between the center and the left and, coincidentally, that’s where most of Maryland is. A plurality of voters see Dan Cox as an extremist.”

Moore has swept up endorsements from the Maryland Democratic establishment and consolidated support since he emerged from a 10-way primary.

He’s also raised 10 times as much money as Cox, giving him a large cash advantage heading into the fall campaign.

Cox told reporters at an unrelated news conference Monday he believed he was in “striking distance” of Moore and pointed out he has spent far less per vote to gather support.

“It an opportunity for all of Maryland to dig in and say, ‘it’s time to go. we’re rolling,’ ” he said. He noted that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan trailed by double-digits months before his 2014 upset win over the Democratic favorite.

That polling, Kromer noted, had a lot of undecided voters.

Maryland voters, tell us what you want to hear from candidates for governor

Both candidates polled poorly with members of the opposite party, with each garnering just 6 percent crossover support.

But the state’s lopsided party registration means Moore could win on the strength of Democratic votes alone: As of August, Democrats make up 54 percent of the electorate, while Republicans are 24 percent and independents are 20 percent.

“The difference is in Maryland, only one of the candidates needs crossover support,” Kromer said.

Democrats, she said, appear unified in supporting their nominees in all statewide races.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) led Republican challenger Chris Chaffee 56 percent to 33 percent, a 23-point margin that was the largest among the races polled.

In the race for attorney general, Democratic Rep. Anthony G. Brown led Republican Michael Peroutka 53 percent to 31 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

The race for comptroller was the closest among the statewide races, but still featured a large lead for the Democratic candidate. Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City) led Republican Harford County Executive Barry Glassman 48 percent to 35 percent, with 16 percent undecided.

Charisma fueled Wes Moore’s primary win. Now he sharpens his focus on policy.

The election is Nov. 8, and early voting starts Oct. 27.

In addition to other congressional, General Assembly and local races across the state, voters will decide whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The poll found 59 percent of voters supported legalization, while 34 percent said they would vote against it and 7 percent were undecided.

The Goucher poll also showed outgoing, term-limited Hogan with a 62 percent approval rating among Maryland residents, though Republicans support him less than independents and Democrats. President Biden’s approval rating is at 48 percent; Trump’s is at 32 percent.