Trump-backed election denier Dan Cox wins Maryland's GOP primary for governor

·4 min read

Another Republican who has sowed false doubt about the 2020 election is a step closer to a governor's mansion and the power to certify results of the 2024 presidential race.

Dan Cox, a state delegate in Maryland, won his state’s GOP primary Tuesday, NBC News projects, beating Kelly Schulz, a former state secretary of commerce backed by the state party's establishment.

Cox — who was at the rally that preceded the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 and scored former President Donald Trump's endorsement — likely owes his win at least in part to national Democrats who aired TV ads reinforcing his right-wing views. While the strategy could pay longer-term dividends in a state where voters lean more toward the center and left, efforts to elevate a presumably weaker opponent risk backfiring in the general election.

Dan Cox greets supporters during a primary election night event on July 19, 2022, in Emmitsburg, Md. (Nathan Howard / Getty Images)
Dan Cox greets supporters during a primary election night event on July 19, 2022, in Emmitsburg, Md. (Nathan Howard / Getty Images)

The Democratic Governors Association spent more than $1 million on largely Cox-centric messaging. Cox himself spent a fraction of that: $21,000 through Monday, according to the media-tracking firm AdImpact.

Cox will face the winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary, a contest that centered on three leading candidates: former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, state Comptroller Peter Franchot, and author Wes Moore. That contest was too early to call, according to NBC News.

Maryland isn’t ordinarily a battleground in election years, but outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan’s two terms — a rarity for Republicans in the state — set the stage for a competitive year. The outgoing governor’s staunch opposition to Trump and endorsement of Schulz, who served in his Cabinet, emboldened the former president to support Cox. In addition to attending and busing Trump supporters to the rally on Jan. 6, Cox also tweeted at the time that then-Vice President Mike Pence was a traitor for certifying Joe Biden’s victory.

"Cox worked with Trump trying to prove the last election was a fraud," a narrator says in a DGA ad that also played up Trump's endorsement and Cox's hardline positions on guns and abortion.

The Democratic strategy of meddling has become a staple of other races this year, with the party engineering outcomes it preferred in governor's races in Illinois and Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania effort was particularly notable for efforts by Josh Shapiro, the state's attorney general and unopposed Democratic candidate for governor, to emphasize the conservative credentials of state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who eventually won a crowded GOP primary. Mastriano, like Cox, has been vocal about the 2020 election and was in Washington, D.C., on the day of the Jan. 6 riot. He also pushed for an alternate slate of Trump electors, operating under the idea that Biden's Electoral College win could be reversed in Trump's favor.

Republicans have expressed frustration with the tactics, and some Democrats have joined them in questioning whether there's hypocrisy afoot when party leaders seems to be boosting the same election deniers they rail against as threats to democracy.

“They think Maryland Republican voters are idiots and rubes who can be tricked,” Doug Mayer, a senior adviser to Schulz’s campaign, said of Democrats last week in an interview with NBC News.

DGA executive director Noam Lee branded Cox as a "conspiracy theorist with an extreme track record" in a statement that also read as an attempt to justify the group's heavy involvement in the primary.

"We can’t let Dan Cox turn Maryland into MAGAland, which is why the DGA has been holding him accountable for weeks and will continue to ensure we defeat him and his dangerous agenda in November," Lee said in the statement.

Meanwhile, Maryland's Democratic primary for governor too early to call late Tuesday, according to NBC News turned into a three-way battle. Perez and Franchot, the state comptroller since 2007 and a longtime state legislator before that, offered themselves as steady hands of the party establishment.

Moore leaned on his nonprofit experience, his background in books and on television. He has hosted programs on Oprah Winfrey's cable network, and the omnipresent former talk show host endorsed his candidacy.

"This moment that we're in demands a different type of leader," Winfrey said in an ad she narrated for Moore's campaign. "For governor in Maryland, you have one in my friend, Wes Moore."

Through Monday, Perez and an outside group backing him had spent the most in the Democratic primary, followed closely by Moore.

Also in the race were former U.S. Secretary of Education John King and former state Attorney General Doug Gansler.