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Wes Moore looks to make history as Maryland's first Black governor

Wes Moore, the Maryland Democratic nominee for governor, speaks The Adele H. Stamp Student Union Center for Campus Life at the University of Maryland College Park, Md., on Oct. 26, 2022.
Kyna Uwaeme for NPR
Wes Moore, the Maryland Democratic nominee for governor, speaks The Adele H. Stamp Student Union Center for Campus Life at the University of Maryland College Park, Md., on Oct. 26, 2022.

Democrat Wes Moore is on track to accomplish something never before seen in the state of Maryland: becoming the first African American to be elected governor.

He could be only the third Black elected governor in U.S. history if he wins the office Nov. 8, and potentially the only Black sitting governor in the nation.

The gravity of this historic election is not lost on Moore.

"It's very humbling," Moore said in a recent interview with NPR, "because this country has only ever elected two African-Americans as governor in the nation's history."

"This is another example of Maryland being ready to lead."

Historic Democratic ticket

Running down ballot on the Democratic ticket is an equally historic spate of candidates.

The candidate for lieutenant governor, Aruna Miller – Moore's running mate – would be the first immigrant elected to statewide office in Maryland; U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown could be the state's first Black attorney general; and Brooke Lierman is looking to make history as the state's first female comptroller.

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore joins Democratic National Committee Chair Jamie Harrison (L), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and lieutenant gubernatorial nominee Aruna Miller (2nd R) during a campaign rally at the Stamp Student Union on the campus of the University of Maryland on October 26, 2022 in College Park, Maryland.
/ Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore joins Democratic National Committee Chair Jamie Harrison (L), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and lieutenant gubernatorial nominee Aruna Miller (2nd R) during a campaign rally at the Stamp Student Union on the campus of the University of Maryland on October 26, 2022 in College Park, Maryland.

While Moore acknowledges the history-making aspect of his candidacy, he is also quick to caution that those are not the only barriers he wants to break as governor.

"We're not in this race to make history. We're in this race because we have a unique opportunity to make child poverty history. That we have a unique opportunity to make the racial wealth gap history," the Rhodes scholar and Army combat veteran told supporters last month.

"Now is our time."

Political newcomer

Moore is a longtime businessman and philanthropist who has never held public office.

Prior to joining the governor's race, Moore was CEO of the anti-poverty organization called Robin Hood and had worked in finance in New York.

National Democrats, who hold a slim majority in Congress and hope to help capture a number of governorships in the upcoming midterms, have played up Moore's resume strengths against concerns over his lack of formal political experience.

Wes Moore speaks in front of a crowd on the University of Maryland campus in College Park, Md., on Oct. 26.
/ Kyna Uwaeme for NPR
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Kyna Uwaeme for NPR
Wes Moore speaks in front of a crowd on the University of Maryland campus in College Park, Md., on Oct. 26.

"When you look at Wes and his story, he embodies everything that is great about America," said DNC Chair Jamie Harrison.

Harrison is among several high–profile Democrats who have stumped for Moore in recent weeks.

"This is a man who has served his nation, who has gone forward and got [an] education, and he's giving back."

Opening for Democrats after eight years of GOP leadership

A Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore poll late last month showed Democrats with a commanding lead in the statewide races.

Moore leads his Republican opponent, far-right Maryland Del. Dan Cox, by a comfortable margin.

Moore's popularity in the race is perhaps only overshadowed by Cox's unpopularity, particularly among the state's Republican establishment.

Maryland is a blue state, having supported the Democratic nominee for president each voting cycle for the past three decades.

Students, union leaders and community members flooded into the Stamp Student Union atrium at the University of Maryland to hear from gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore and other Democratic candidates on the ballot on Oct. 26, 2022.
/ Kyna Uwaeme for NPR
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Kyna Uwaeme for NPR
Students, union leaders and community members flooded into the Stamp Student Union atrium at the University of Maryland to hear from gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore and other Democratic candidates on the ballot on Oct. 26, 2022.

But the state's incumbent governor, Republican moderate Larry Hogan, remains popular in the state, even among Democrats.

While Hogan has not endorsed either candidate in the race, he has referred to Cox as a "nut" and a "QANON whack-job," referring to the candidate's embrace of far-right conspiracy theories.

Moore has said this of his opponent: "I don't think it's lost on voters at all that I'm literally running against an extremist election denier, someone who said he hasn't said if he would honor the results of this election."

So far, Moore has led a relatively scandal-light campaign, by political standards.

His lack of political experience has been called into question.

And Cox, who did not respond to NPR requests for an interview, has accused Moore of being a fraud and overexaggerating how long he has lived in Baltimore.

Moore's supporters, however, seem unperturbed by these barbs.

'He could be president'

At one campaign event last month at the University of Maryland, a woman spent fifteen minutes, undisturbed by the chaos of reporters and Moore's handlers, with her head bent into his chest sobbing in prayer and well-wishes for the candidate.

Moore eventually emerged from her embrace, his white dress shirt stained with tears and makeup.

Wes Moore, the Maryland Democratic nominee for governor, speaks at the Early Vote Rally in Stamp Student Union on Oct. 26, 2022.
/ Kyna Uwaeme for NPR
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Kyna Uwaeme for NPR
Wes Moore, the Maryland Democratic nominee for governor, speaks at the Early Vote Rally in Stamp Student Union on Oct. 26, 2022.

At another in Randallstown, Md., supporters jockeyed to get selfies with Moore in front of the candidate's campaign bus, decked out with a larger-than-life photo of Moore and his running-mate, Miller.

"I feel very proud, very proud because we need somebody to go in and do what we need done. And we need somebody to represent us," 71-year-old Theresa Grimes said after snapping pictures and holding court with Moore.

"He could be the president," Grimes, a lifelong Maryland resident, said. "He could be the next president and also the second Black president."

Despite his comfortable lead in the polls, Moore said his campaign strategy is to remain humble.

Wes Moore, the Maryland Democratic nominee for governor, speaks at the Early Vote Rally in Stamp Student Union on Oct. 26, 2022.
/ Kyna Uwaeme for NPR
/
Kyna Uwaeme for NPR
Wes Moore, the Maryland Democratic nominee for governor, speaks at the Early Vote Rally in Stamp Student Union on Oct. 26, 2022.

"I woke up this morning the way I woke up yesterday, which is feeling like we're ten points down. Every single day. And that's what we always stress to the team. What are we doing today to make up ten votes? And that's how we're running this race."

Moore says his young children also help him keep perspective. Moore recalled the first time his children saw his face adorned on the side of his campaign bus.

"When my kids saw it, my son said, 'wow, you've got a big head.' "

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.