Republican voters in Maryland on Tuesday made their state the latest to elevate a nominee for governor who denies the 2020 election’s legitimacy, choosing Dan Cox, a first-term state legislator who wrote on social media during the Capitol riot that Vice President Mike Pence was “a traitor.”
Mr. Cox handily defeated Kelly Schulz, a political protégé of Gov. Larry Hogan, a leader of the party’s anti-Trump wing, in a contest defined by Mr. Cox’s endorsement from former President Donald J. Trump and Democratic television advertising meant to help Mr. Cox’s candidacy.
The Associated Press called the race late Tuesday. The Democratic primary was too close to call, though Wes Moore, a best-selling author and former nonprofit executive, held a lead over Tom Perez, a former Democratic National Committee chairman.
Like their brethren in Illinois and Pennsylvania, Maryland Republicans chose a Trump-endorsed candidate from the far right instead of opponents backed by the political establishment, which warned in each state that Mr. Trump’s picks would be toxic in the general election.
Maryland’s contest may have broader implications for 2024 presidential politics. Mr. Hogan has sought to present himself as a potential alternative to Mr. Trump, who has been considering an early 2024 announcement, but his failure to help his handpicked successor win the nomination in his home state will raise questions about his political clout.
The list of Mr. Cox’s false claims about elections is long. In December, he said that Mr. Trump was “the only president that I recognize right now” and argued that Mr. Biden had been “installed” in the White House. Earlier, he had baselessly claimed that widespread voter fraud had occurred in Frederick County, where he lives, and had called on Mr. Trump to “seize federal vote machines in states where fraud was overwhelmingly rampant” after the 2020 election.
Mr. Cox also chartered three buses from his home county to the pro-Trump rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Mr. Cox, whose campaign raised little money, was the beneficiary of more than $1.16 million in television advertising from the Democratic Governors Association, which tried to help his primary campaign in hopes that he would be easier to defeat in the general election. Democrats across the country have employed similar strategies to aid far-right candidates in G.O.P. primaries this year, despite the risk that it could backfire.
If elected, Mr. Cox has promised to conduct “a forensic audit” of the 2020 election, seek to ban all abortions in Maryland and end “sexual indoctrination” in the state’s public schools.
“We see that freedom matters,” Mr. Cox said at his victory party in Emmitsburg, Md. “It matters to all parties in Maryland, we’re excited to carry that banner.”
Mr. Cox now faces a steep general-election challenge in a state Joseph R. Biden Jr. won by more than 30 percentage points. Republicans like Mr. Hogan have done well in Maryland by appealing to independents and moderate Democratic voters worried about Democratic dominance of the General Assembly; Mr. Cox has predicated his campaign on a fealty to Mr. Trump and his far-right base.
Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly.
In remarks to supporters in Annapolis before the race was called on Tuesday night, Ms. Schulz expressed regret about Republican voters’ loyalty to Mr. Trump and lamented that the G.O.P. had strayed from its historical roots.
“My Republican Party is the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and John McCain,” she said. “And that is exactly the party that I will continue to fight for.”
Ms. Schulz had predicted Mr. Cox would lose the general election by 30 percentage points to any of the Democrats running.
“The Maryland Republican Party got together and committed ritualized mass suicide,” said Doug Mayer, a senior aide to Ms. Schulz. “The only thing that was missing was Jim Jones and a cup of Kool-Aid.”
Democrats were choosing among a field of nine candidates, the top tier of which included Mr. Moore, who campaigned as a political newcomer; Mr. Perez, a former labor secretary; and Peter Franchot, the state comptroller, who has been in Maryland politics since 1987.
Early Wednesday, Mr. Moore was ahead of Mr. Perez, with Mr. Franchot well behind, though a significant number of Democratic votes had yet to be counted.
Mr. Moore built his advantage through his strength in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, which are home to the state’s largest concentrations of Black voters. He was winning about half of the vote in Prince George’s County, a populous Washington suburb, a margin that might be difficult for Mr. Perez to make up.
Because Maryland law prohibits the processing and counting of ballots returned by mail and in drop boxes until Thursday, the outcome of the Democratic primary for governor and other close races might not be known for days.
As Democrats try to retake a governor’s office that has been held since 2015 by a Republican, Mr. Hogan, their primary contest was defined by stylistic differences rather than ideological ones. Mr. Perez and Mr. Franchot emphasized their long experience in government, while Mr. Moore argued that the party needed new blood.
“You know what you’re going to get with Tom Perez,” Mr. Perez said last week in an interview outside an early-voting site in Silver Spring. “It’s a workhorse, not a show horse. It’s someone with a proven track record of getting stuff done.”
In an interview on Tuesday on MSNBC, Mr. Moore dismissed criticism that he had given misleading impressions about his personal history and accomplishments, and said the real risk would be elevating an establishment candidate.
“People are not looking for the same ideas from the same people,” he said.
At least 169,000 Democratic absentee ballots and more than 38,000 Republican ballots had been returned as of Monday, according to the State Board of Elections. Another 204,000 Democratic and 58,000 Republican absentee ballots were mailed to voters and remain outstanding. Ballots postmarked on Tuesday will count if they are received by July 29.
Another 116,000 Democrats and 51,000 Republicans voted during the state’s eight days of early in-person balloting, which ended last week.
The turnout was expected to outpace past competitive primaries in Maryland. Four years ago, in another closely contested Democratic primary for governor, 552,000 people voted. Officials involved in the Democratic campaigns expected between 600,000 and 700,000 votes this year in the primary for governor.
The Republican turnout picture was murkier. There has not been a meaningful statewide G.O.P. primary in a midterm year since 2014, when Mr. Hogan first ran. That year, 215,000 Republicans voted.
In the state’s open contest for attorney general, Republicans were choosing between Michael Anthony Peroutka, who has on several occasions spoken to the League of the South, a group that calls for the states of the former Confederacy to secede again from the United States, and Jim Shalleck, a prosecutor who has served as president of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.
In the Democratic primary, Representative Anthony Brown, who served as lieutenant governor under Gov. Martin O’Malley, was facing off against Mr. O’Malley’s wife, Katie Curran O’Malley, who was a judge in Baltimore for two decades.
Republicans have not won an election for Maryland attorney general since 1918.
In other Maryland races, former Representative Donna Edwards, a Democrat, was defeated in her bid to win back the Prince George’s County-based House seat she gave up to run for the Senate in 2016.
Glenn Ivey, a prosecutor, beat her in a race that became a proxy war over Israel policy.
The United Democracy Project, a political action committee affiliated with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, spent $5.9 million to help Mr. Ivey. Ms. Edwards, for her part, was backed by J Street, a liberal Jewish organization.
And in a House district that stretches from the Washington suburbs across Western Maryland to the West Virginia line, Mr. Trump and Mr. Hogan — frequent critics of each other — endorsed the same candidate, only to see him go down in defeat.
That candidate, a 25-year-old conservative journalist, Matthew Foldi, lost to Neil Parrott, a Republican state legislator. Mr. Parrott will face Representative David Trone, a wealthy Democrat, in a rematch of their 2020 contest.