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Trump endorses Maryland lawmaker in governor’s race

Former president Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Oct. 9 in Des Moines. Trump has endorsed Del. Daniel L. Cox (R) in the Maryland gubernatorial primary.
Former president Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Oct. 9 in Des Moines. Trump has endorsed Del. Daniel L. Cox (R) in the Maryland gubernatorial primary. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Former president Donald Trump has endorsed Del. Daniel L. Cox’s bid for the Republican nomination to be governor of Maryland, describing him as a “tough lawyer and smart businessman” who “fought against the Rigged Presidential Election every step of the way.”

The endorsement Monday instantly transformed Maryland’s primary into a high-profile tug of war between two starkly different visions of the Republican Party: one embraced by Cox and Trump, the other favored by outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and his handpicked candidate, Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz.

While the endorsement may not change the outcome in the Republican primary, it indicates there will be a divisive and potentially costly battle pitting the Hogan wing of the party against the Trump wing.

“It means money,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “Whether it ultimately changes his chances of winning, it gives him the money that will sustain him in a contested race. And that’s what Schulz absolutely wanted to avoid.”

Cox, who represents Frederick County, did not return a call seeking comment.

In the announcement, Trump mentions Schulz by name — although he misspells it — and takes a swipe at Hogan, a frequent critic of Trump’s presidency.

“Dan is MAGA all the way — unlike his opponent, Kelly Schultz, who was handpicked by her ‘boss,’ RINO Larry Hogan, who has been terrible for our Country and is against the America First Movement.”

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Hogan responded to Trump’s endorsement with a swipe of his own, noting that Trump lost to now-President Biden by a wide margin in Maryland.

“Personally, I’d prefer endorsements from people who didn’t lose Maryland by 33 points,” he said on Twitter on Monday evening.

Hogan ratcheted up his rhetoric Tuesday. The governor labeled Cox “a QAnon wack job,” a reference to the extremist ideology that has radicalized its followers.

Dirk Haire, the head of the state Republican Party, noted that polls consistently show that Republicans in Maryland are supportive of both Trump as president and Hogan as governor. A 2019 Gonzales Research & Media Services poll found that while Hogan was as popular as Trump among Republican voters, if Hogan at the time mounted a primary challenge against Trump, Republican voters in Maryland would have backed Trump by a 2-to-1 margin.

“I don’t know that it does have much effect on the primary,” Haire said, noting that the race will come down to how effective Schulz, Cox, and former state lawmaker and perennial candidate Robin Ficker are in laying out their visions for the state.

Mike Demkiw, a spokesman for Schulz’s campaign, said that Schulz is “the only Republican who can win this race” and that she proudly “stood next to Gov. Hogan over the last 8 years as they fought to make Maryland a better, safer, and more affordable place to live and raise a family.”

In addition to fighting against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, Cox sued Hogan to challenge his stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic and represented a Harford County man who sued local officials over his arrest at a polling place for not wearing a mask.

Cox also called Vice President Mike Pence “a traitor” on Twitter for not overturning the results of the election, as rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Eberly said Republicans need a unified primary to be successful in securing a third term leading Maryland.

“The party has to be unified and Democrats have to be wiling to vote for a Republican,” he said. “Any race that divides the GOP hurts both of those things.”

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