The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump-backed candidate courts Black voters at Maryland’s largest HBCU

Del. Dan Cox, a Maryland state legislator who is the Republican nominee for governor, talks to reporters in Annapolis on June 30. (Brian Witte/AP)

From the little information that Charles Ederson, a Black senior majoring in political science, had gleaned about Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick), Maryland’s Republican nominee for governor, Ederson knew their politics did not align.

But Ederson was open-minded, he said, so he planted himself near the front of the nearly empty student-center theater at Morgan State University, Maryland’s largest historically Black university, on Tuesday night to see if the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate could “really influence how I feel about the Maryland gubernatorial race.”

With six weeks before Election Day, the hour-long forum, hosted by the Morgan State Spokesman, the university’s student news site, offered Cox what he described as a “historic” opportunity to make a pitch to young Black voters on their own turf.

Cox, who was 22 percentage points behind his Democratic opponent, Wes Moore, in a recent Goucher College poll, opened the forum by accusing Moore of showing “disrespect” to the university by declining its invitation to participate in the event.

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

Moore spent Wednesday morning launching a tour of the state’s historically Black colleges and universities with a visit to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in rural Maryland.

“I’m asking for your vote,” Cox, a backbench freshman state legislator, told the audience at Morgan State. “This is your moment to put power back in the people’s hands. Give me a chance.”

Cox was asked about a dozen questions on abortion access, election integrity, critical race theory and gender identity, the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and on funding for HBCUs. Cox, who has described the 2020 presidential election as “stolen,” would not commit to accepting the results of his own contest in November.

“I believe very firmly in making sure that our system works. I don’t believe in changing the rules midstream,” he said. “I don’t believe in making a system that creates questions. I don’t believe in losing our chain of custody with mail-in ballots. I don’t believe in failure to assert and verify that it’s actually voters voting.”

He denied “co-hosting” buses transporting Trump supporters to the Jan. 6 rally in Washington that preceded the attack on the Capitol, even after a student journalist read from a tweet he posted with the hashtag #StopTheSteal. Instead he insisted that he only bought tickets for himself and seven of his children.

When asked how he reconciles believing people should not have to take a coronavirus vaccine with believing women should not be able to choose abortion, Cox tried to pivot:

“Right now the issue before us is not so much these moral debates that we’ve had so long, which everyone knows I’m pro-life; the issue is whether or not we can put food on our children’s tables and have an opportunity here in Maryland,” he said.

Asked whether he supports public universities providing birth control to students, Cox said “I don’t believe in government handouts … not something forced upon another taxpayer to pay for.”

After the forum, Ederson approached Cox to ask him about his plans to address homelessness. He ultimately decided he could not vote for Cox, citing a “lack of accountability regarding Jan. 6 that he refuses to accept … and his [nonacceptance of] trans people as citizens, referring to them as biological men or women.”

But the 22-year-old college student said he wasn’t sure about Moore either: “Neither candidate currently has really done enough to get my vote.”

Dan Cox was a backbench Md. lawmaker. Then the pandemic hit.

Cox, who was buoyed in the primary by an endorsement from former president Donald Trump, has focused on “restoring freedom to Maryland,” attacking vaccination mandates and school curriculums on race and gender identity. As a state lawmaker, he has introduced 14 bills that would restrict or roll back access to abortion.

Wes Moore wants Md. students to do a year of service after graduating

Moore’s platform centers on a promise to “leave no one behind,” with investments in education, job creation and the environment. Moore, a best-selling author and Army veteran, most recently worked as head of one of the country’s largest poverty-fighting organizations.

The candidates have only one debate scheduled. The Oct. 12 event is sponsored by Maryland Public Television. Both candidates say they want the opportunity to present their platforms and to show how differently they would serve if elected.

Cox has repeatedly bashed Moore for declining the Morgan State students’ invitation. He has accused Moore of refusing to share a stage with him, and he has called on the Democratic nominee and political newcomer to “step up, don’t run away.”

Carter Elliott IV, a spokesman for Moore, said Moore looks forward to debating Cox next month.