OWINGS MILLS – Gubernatorial candidates Dan Cox and Wes Moore tangled, sometimes viciously, Wednesday in their first, and probably only, televised debate. Supporters lined the streets outside Maryland Public Television Wednesday afternoon, holding posters, chanting, and waving as cars drove to the station for the debate.

Democrat Moore, who has a 2-to-1 lead among voters in the latest poll, appeared initially to plan to sidestep the debate. In contrast, Republican Cox, endorsed by former President Donald Trump and vilified by Gov. Hogan, R, came into the contest needing to appeal to a broader swath of voters. The candidates were questioned by a panel of reporters and students from Morgan State University and Salisbury University.

Gubernatorial candidates Dan Cox and Wes Moore faced off at their first and likely only televised debate Wednesday. Debate topics included abortion, racial inequity, education and marijuana. Credit: Michael Ciesielski Photography / Maryland Public Television

Abortion becomes an issue in safe-haven state

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade has affected state and national elections, tightening or overturning races that were easy victories for Republicans. Women, who are registering in droves, have tipped numerous elections toward Democrats. The subject became front and center as the candidates outlined their positions in a state where abortion is legal, and voters go to the polls in November to decide whether to ensure the right in the state constitution.

Moore, who stands pro-choice, repeatedly voiced his support for the procedure, saying abortion falls under healthcare and trusts women to make decisions with their doctor. He said he wants Maryland to be a “safe haven” state for women. He said his opponent would have a woman arrested for getting an abortion.
Cox, who said he is “pro-life,” denied the accusation. Still, he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and if the mother’s life is endangered.

“Women, children, and the unborn have equal protections,” he said.

Cox said Moore’s stance that abortion is healthcare and that women should have control of their bodies stands in opposition to his and other Democrats’ position on vaccination mandates. He said that each person should choose to get a vaccine. He said that if the government is not forcing anyone to have an abortion, how can it force people, such as state, federal, and municipal employees, to get COVID-19 vaccinations? It’s obnoxious that the government wants to take control.”

Character assassination was a debate staple.

Both candidates attacked each other’s character in almost every question.

Cox said Moore lied about his life in his best-selling book, “The Other Wes Moore.” He accused Moore of claiming to be a Baltimore native, ”but sir, you weren’t there until you were 34.” He accused Moore of ducking him repeatedly in debates. “When you look at why he won’t debate, it’s because he’s a phony,” he said. He accused Moore of hypocrisy because, as the head of an education non-profit that helped others, “he was making millions, and he’s currently living in a $3 million home (when) he leaves Baltimore.”

Moore called Cox an election denier and tried to tie him to former President Donald Trump. In response to a question about whether Cox would accept the election, he read a tweet from Cox to the audience:

“I want to read something,” Moore said. “‘I am co-hosting two buses to the Million MAGA March/rally with the Frederick County conservative club in support of @realDonaldTrump on January 6, 2021, to #stopthesteal. Demand NO, #ChinaBiden.’ Those are the words of my opponent.”

Hogan Administration casts a shadow throughout the debate.

The panel asked Cox and Moore to give a final grade for the Hogan administration. Hogan leaves office as one of Maryland’s most popular governors in the past 20 years, with an approval rating hovering near 73%. Moore joked he could not give Hogan a final grade because his administration is not yet complete. Moore thanked Hogan for calling out the MAGA movement as extremist and said, unlike Hogan, as governor, he would help the state’s economy grow faster.

Cox said he supported the Hogan administration and would rate it an “A.” Moore countered, “We’re watching a perfect indication of why Governor Hogan calls Cox unfit. Hogan has said, ‘not only will I not support Cox, but I also won’t even give him a tour of the governor’s office.’ Frankly, I’m standing on stage with an extremist election denier.”

Widely different views on education

Both candidates referenced their children as examples in addressing education-related issues but offered dramatically different viewpoints.

Cox pledged to change the way parents are involved in schools. He promised to eliminate “transgender indoctrination in kindergarten,” which included stopping the reading of LGBTQ+ books. He said he would return the state to “world-class learning,” which includes reading, writing, and arithmetic, so that “our kids can learn as God intended them to learn.” He said he wants to end the “politicization” of the classroom and “get back to math.”

Moore, backed by the Maryland State Education Association, said educators have the same goals for their children as he does to prepare them for the world they will inherit. He said partnerships between parents and educators are not indoctrination. Moore rejected Cox’s characterization of LGGTQ+ influence in schools and instead referenced the homelessness rate of LGBTQ+ youth and the 80% suicide contemplation rate for transgender youth.

How to bridge racial disparities

To close the racial gaps in the state, Cox said the state’s Black business owners should receive reparations for the past two years because they suffered most from the pandemic. He did not state concrete plans about how he intends to provide reparations.

Moore countered that racial disparities did not start two years ago, saying the racial wealth gap in Maryland is an issue the state has to address. Moore said he will create pathways for work, wealth, and wages by raising the minimum wage to $15 next year instead of 2025, as scheduled. He said he would address appraisal values in historically redlined minority neighborhoods and fix broken procurement laws.

Moore said if voters approve the legalization of marijuana, he will ensure a fair rollout to include Black marijuana entrepreneurs. He also said he would address the consequences of criminalization, specifically in Black and Latino communities. He will consider pardons for those with marijuana charges on their criminal records.

Cox said he agreed with Moore’s position. “Everyone should be treated equally. That’s why I support making sure that those criminalized for small possessions are no longer criminalized. We need to ensure that we have a path for people to reestablish themselves so they don’t lose their job over something like that.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the debate’s location. The debate was held at Maryland Public Television.

This article was originally published in CNSMaryland.org and is republished with permission.

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