Democrats trade barbs, woo voters, in Maryland gubernatorial debate

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Author Wes Moore warned voters Monday that Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is not the man of integrity that he makes himself out to be.

In a Democratic gubernatorial primary debate, Mr. Moore accused the longtime comptroller of leading a “pay to play” scheme out of his office.

Mr. Moore is running second behind Mr. Franchot in the latest polls and used the second Democratic gubernatorial debate to cut his rival down to size.

“The people who will get Peter Franchot’s support oftentimes are those who will pay for it,” Mr. Moore said. “They oftentimes are people who have donated to his campaign.” 

“You know, not once, not twice, but twelve times that has happened — that he has offered a contract to someone who has donated to his campaign,” he said. “So the thing when we are talking about integrity pay for play is not part of that integrity pledge.”

Mr. Franchot brushed aside the attack.

“I have the integrity of my long service in politics,” he said. “It has been totally vetted and I come back to the fact that voters have this trust and confidence in me.”

Mr. Franchot said being fiscally moderate puts him a “little bit out of touch with everybody else on the stage,” but voters have shown they are OK with that.

Mr. Franchot and Mr. Moore shared the debate stage with six of their Democratic rivals in the battle for the party’s gubernatorial nomination: Doug Gansler, a former state attorney general; Rushern Baker, former county executive of Prince George’s County; Jon Baron, a former non-profit executive; Ashwani Jain, a former Obama Administration official; John King, a former secretary of education in the Obama administration; and Tom Perez, former head of the Democratic National Committee.

The showdown came after a Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore poll released Sunday showed Mr. Franchot leading the field with 20% of the vote, followed by Mr. Moore with 15%, and Mr. Perez with 12%. 

The Democratic race, though, remains fluid with 31% undecided in the Democratic primary.

With that as a backdrop, the candidates took to the debate stage Monday on a mission to distinguish themselves from their rivals.

Mr. Franchot cast himself as the steady and trusted hand in the race.  Mr. Moore said his status as a political outsider provides him with the vision needed to bring people together to tackle challenges that elected leaders have failed to fix. 

Mr. Tom Perez cast himself as a battle-tested warrior that voters can count on.

“I’m running for governor to make sure we have jobs, justice and opportunity across Maryland,” Mr. Perez said. “I am part of the GSD wing of the Democratic Party. I want to get stuff done and that is exactly what I have done throughout my career.”

“If you want to figure out what someone is going to do in the future, look at what they

have done in the past,” he said.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, is term-limited and the race to succeed him is one of the Democrats’ best opportunities to flip control of a governor’s mansion in what is shaping up to be a tough election cycle for the party.

The Cook Political Report ranks the race as “lean” Democrat.

The debate was a prime opportunity to make an impression on voters as the crowded field embarked on a six-week sprint to the mid-summer primary.

“We respect the taxpayer, we respond to the taxpayer, we get results for the taxpayer,” Mr. Franchot said of the 16 years he has spent as comptroller. “I intend to take those 3 R’s to state government and every agency.”

Mr. Moore said the biggest concerns on the minds of voters – rising costs, education,  and health care costs – “are some of the same challenges that people on this stage have had 30 years to fix.”

“I will tackle these problems with a sense of urgency that no one else can or will. I have led soldiers in combat in Afghanistan. I’ve built a successful small business in Maryland. I’ve served as CEO of one of the nation’s largest poverty-fighting organizations and I will put my preparedness to lead at this moment against anybody else.”

Mr. Gansler said he is the “only pro-business and pro-law enforcement candidate” in the field.

“This election is about crime and criminal justice,” Mr. Gansler said. “There is no other candidate in this debate that has any background whatsoever in criminal justice.” 

“Think about that: the most important issue in people’s minds right now is crime and criminal justice and nobody here has any background in that whatsoever,” he said.

Mr. Gansler said he supports putting 1,000 more police officers on the street and a student resource officer in every public school.”

Mr. Moore, a political newcomer with broad support, including from television titan Oprah Winfrey, faced frequent attacks.

Mr. King said when he was working as secretary of education to crack down on predatory for-profit colleges, Mr. Moore was “on the board of a predatory for-profit college that was taking advantage of students.”

“Too often politicians will inflate their experience,” Mr. King said. “They will say that they are for a thing that they are really against.”

Mr. Gansler said the party must nominate a vetted candidate because the Republican Party will not hold back in the general election.

“Rhetoric does not make a record,” Mr. Gansler said. “I’ve got things done. I’ve done it before and I will do it again.

Mr. Perez and Mr. Moore also tussled toward the tail end of the debate. 

Mr. Perez,  who served as assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division and then secretary of labor, said when he was fighting against predatory lending Mr. Moore was working for CitiBank.

“CitiBank was one of many banks that were very bad actors in the foreclosure crisis,” he said.  “I took on his banks and I personally don’t know how working at Citi Bank is public service.”

Mr. Moore reminded voters that the Congressional Black Caucus in 2018 passed a vote of no confidence in Mr. Tom Perez as DNC chair. 

“The truth is Tom when we talk about what it means to hold people accountable and what it means to fight for the little guy – the little guy is the one who has actually been oppressed by you,” he said. “So now when you are coming to the black community to ask for their support we are looking back at you and saying, ‘Where was your support when we needed it?’”

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