June 13, 2024

Maryland Democrats, seeking to regain the governorship after an eight-year hiatus, have an exceptionally well credentialed field: two former Obama cabinet members, one who was chair of the of the Democratic Party, the state’s current comptroller and a former attorney general. 

The most striking resume, however, belongs to a candidate who has never run for political office: a Rhodes scholar and White House fellow, who with the 82nd Airborne division led troops in Afghanistan, a best-selling author who has financial experience and was CEO of a big antipoverty foundation. This is Wes Moore, one of the front runners in the July 19 primary.

If Moore wins the primary and general election —Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is retiring — he would become a national political figure, rare for a Maryland politician. He would be only the third Black to win a gubernatorial election in America.

To run, he resigned as CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, which pours lots of resources into fighting poverty in New York. Much of this money comes from hedge fund and private equity billionaires, but the foundation does a lot of good.

“He’s the real deal,” says legendary television anchorman Tom Brokaw, who has known Moore for years and was on the board of the Robin Hood Foundation. “He’s smart, charming and careful about not overstepping his opportunity.” 

I first encountered Moore at his 2001 graduation from Johns Hopkins; he was notable as a student, when — working with Baltimore’s public defender’s office — he started a mentoring program for middle school kids in the juvenile justice system.

Eight years later, after Barack Obama was elected president, former Defense Secretary and U.S. Senator Bill Cohen told me about someone talented: Wes Moore.

A measured man, Cohen’s enthusiasm is off the charts: “I have yet to meet a person who has more leadership skills, scholarship achievement, patriotic commitment, heart and humanity to bring to public service at the highest level of government than Wes Moore. He’s the man I would want next to me on a battlefield, on the athletic field or at a boardroom.” 

Still, Moore has never navigated the challenges of governing; even with a heavily Democratic legislature, there are lots of competing claims and tradeoffs awaiting the next governor.

He’s running as a typical progressive Democrat, with little daylight between his positions and his top opponent, Tom Perez, the highly regarded former U.S. Labor Secretary and Democratic chair. One interesting Moore idea is to offer all high school graduates in the state a one-year public service option; they’d also get job training and other support programs.

He walks a careful line on crime, a big issue in Maryland and elsewhere. He dismisses “defund the police” as a slogan, says there’s a need for more police in some communities and better trained and more accountable police in all. His standard line is to call for a police force with “appropriate intensity and absolute integrity.”

Moore acknowledges that race is an issue: “Race always plays a factor in everything,” he says in an interview at Baltimore’s Reggie Lewis museum, where he’s speaking to a diverse crowd of almost 200.

He contends he has the ability to “energize the base and not alienate others.”

Although a newcomer, he has raised more money than all the other candidates and has won a more impressive array of endorsements. This includes: members of the Maryland congressional delegation, Kweisi Mfume, a past President of the NAACP who represents inner city Baltimore, and House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, a moderate representing a suburban Washington district; the two top state legislative leaders; the executive of voter-rich Prince Georges County, and the politically potent Maryland Teachers Association.

There have been a few controversies. Moore’s book, “The Other Wes Moore,” was about a young man with the same name who is serving a life sentence for murder, contrasting the different support systems that led to such dramatically different outcomes. But he implied — and allowed others misleadingly to claim — that both grew up in Baltimore. He was born in another part of Maryland, moved to the Bronx and came to Baltimore for college.

It was unnecessary, as the story is compelling wherever they were born.

He also is under some criticism for not correcting interviewers who said that he won a Bronze Star in Afghanistan. This is petty, as he was awarded other medals and recognition for his combat service. Try to think of other graduates of elite universities and Rhodes scholars who volunteered for the wartime military.

Polls — public and private — show a close contest between Peter Franchot, the longtime and forgettable comptroller, Perez and Moore.

The Washington Post, while praising Moore, endorsed Perez for his unmatched “track record or command of governing.”

Perez would be a good Maryland Governor. Moore has that potential too — and potential to be a lot more.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

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