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On paper, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Dan Cox has one main opponent this fall — Democrat Wes Moore, the best-selling author and former nonprofit CEO.
Increasingly, however, the Frederick County lawmaker is being forced to beat back attacks from a second high-profile foe — the state’s popular governor, Republican Larry Hogan.
Hogan has repeatedly called the Trump-endorsed Cox a “QAnon whack job” and a “nut job.” He has said he will not be voting for him or supporting him in any way. And he declared that he wouldn’t let the lawmaker set foot in the governor’s office.
This week, Hogan went further, questioning the GOP standard-bearer’s sanity.
“He’s not, in my opinion, mentally stable,” Hogan told an Eastern Shore radio station, WGMD, this week. “Half of Republicans don’t support the guy because he’s a nut.”
The governor’s comments come at a crucial time for Cox.
As he pivots from the primary election to the general, he is trying to make the best possible first impression on Democrats and independents who may not have tracked the GOP primary. He also needs to court the voters who supported his main primary rival, former state commerce secretary Kelly Schulz.
Cox is also trying to professionalize the ad hoc team that helped him capture the nomination. In recent days he opened a new campaign headquarters and hired a campaign manager and press secretary.
Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Baltimore County), a Cox supporter, conceded that Hogan’s constant attacks are likely to make the GOP nominee’s uphill fight even more difficult.
“To me, it’s devastating, especially for your party,” said Salling. “You have somebody that you would think would be your supporter and it’s not.”
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R), an outspoken Cox critic and Schulz supporter like Hogan, also predicted that the governor’s comments will hurt the GOP candidate. “You have a governor with 70% approval rating and if he’s saying that he doesn’t care for this other candidate, it’s going to have some impact,” he said.
(Rutherford distanced himself from Hogan’s description of Cox as being “not mentally stable,” calling it “not terminology I would use.”
“The people who support Del. Cox, they support him for the positions that he takes,” Rutherford added.)
In an email, Cox declined to characterize Hogan’s crack about his mental state. He said the choice for voters this fall center around the candidates on the ballot, not the current governor.
“On the ballot for November’s Governor race are Dan Cox and Wes Moore,” Cox wrote. “Wes Moore has made it clear that if elected he would continue governmental discrimination and overreach including more mandates, dictating gender indoctrination in our schools, forced masking, experimental vaccine passports to attend events and even to eat out, and more lockdowns. But the people of Maryland and I, as your governor, will return power to the people, end mandates, keep businesses and schools open and safe, and restore freedom to the Free State.”
Republicans who run statewide for most offices in Maryland — U.S. Senate, comptroller, attorney general — often fail by wide margins, thanks largely to the lopsided voter registration advantage that Democrats enjoy. GOP candidates for governor have won three of the last five governors races by appealing to a broad spectrum of the electorate.
Hogan’s comments about Cox imperil his ability to build that coalition. They could also hurt fundraising.
Goucher College political science professor Mileah Kromer said Hogan is “popular where it matters for winning general elections, popular among moderate-to-conservative Democrats and consistently popular among independents.”
Kromer said Hogan’s continual (and arguably unprecedented) takedowns of Cox only reinforce her core question about his candidacy — whether Cox has a mathematical path to victory. “You have a message from a very popular Republican governor basically saying ‘This guy’s not me,’” she said. “’There is a reason (voters) voted for me, but this guy’s not me.’”
In addition to making sharp-elbowed comments about Cox on the radio, Hogan went a step further on Friday, posing for pictures with Moore and wife Dawn during a chance encounter at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference. The governor’s staff posted a photo of the trio online.
In an interview, Hogan denied trying to actively undermine Cox’s bid for high office. He said his comment about Cox’s mental stability came only after he received a litany of Cox-related questions.
“It doesn’t matter to me what happens to Dan Cox,” he said. “I was on the radio, talking about all the things that we’re doing, and everything we’ve accomplished for the [Eastern] Shore. And the guy asked me five, six questions about him. And I was just tired of answering the stupid questions.”
Hogan’s comments were picked up by several national media outlets, including The Hill, making it certain that former President Trump, with whom the governor has long sparred, with become aware of them.
Democrats welcomed Hogan’s comments about Cox.
“The governor is incredibly popular, not just in Baltimore County but across the state,” said Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski (D). “I hope that his comments have a deep impact.”
“I think it says a lot when a sitting governor criticizes someone of their own party so resoundingly,” he added.
Former Secretary of State John Willis (D), a political science professor at the University of Baltimore, agreed. An early Moore supporter and Dawn Moore’s former boss when the two worked in the Secretary of State’s office, Willis said: “As the nominee of a party, you wouldn’t want the governor of the state making those comments about you in a general public setting.”
Right-wing group injects millions into Utah race amid sudden fear independent could oust GOP senator
On Friday, the Washington Examiner reported that a key right-wing political group is committing $2.5 million in TV ads to defending Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), amid sudden fears that he could be vulnerable in a race against an independent candidate.
"Utah is a red state, and Republicans are favored to make gains in Congress amid President Joe Biden’s languishing job approval ratings," reported David M. Drucker. "But the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group in Washington, is worried enough about Lee’s prospects that it is now airing a television spot statewide, on broadcast and cable, attacking McMullin as a closet liberal."
"'What does Evan McMullin believe, and who’s paying him?' the voice-over in the Club for Growth ad says as the spot opens, before going on to accuse him of using donations to political groups he controls to 'push a left-wing agenda,'" said the report. "The ad was written by Republican consultant Andy Sere. Republican strategist Jeff Roe, who advises Lee’s close friend, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), placed the media buy."
According to the report, the Club for Growth believes the campaign is necessary because the "Senate Leadership Fund can’t be trusted to protect conservatives."
McMullin, a former CIA officer who previously ran for president in 2016, is a conservative former Republican who left the party over his opposition to Donald Trump. He has pledged not to caucus with either Democrats or Republicans if he wins the 2022 Senate race. Democrats declined to nominate a candidate of their own and endorsed McMullin's campaign, because a theoretical McMullin victory would further complicate GOP efforts to win the chamber.
Lee, a far-right senator, drew controversy in 2020 when he claimed that the United States is "not a democracy."
All of this comes as Senate Republicans face a massive cash crunch, with strategists angered at the rapid burn rate of funds from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) on chairman Rick Scott's personal projects, even as Republicans are badly outspent by Democrats on air in key Senate races around the country.
Merrick Garland, the US attorney general, was denied a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court by Republicans in the Senate.
He now faces a decision arguably every bit as weighty as anything he may have faced on the nation's highest court: the potential prosecution of a former president of the United States.
The 69-year-old Garland personally approved the stunning August 8 FBI search of Donald Trump's Florida home and will have the final say on whether he is to be charged with any crimes.
Such a move against a former president would be unprecedented -- Richard Nixon was pardoned by Gerald Ford before any criminal charges could be brought stemming from the Watergate scandal.
And while Nixon was a spent force anyway -- having resigned in disgrace -- the 76-year-old Trump retains an iron grip over the Republican Party and is openly mulling another run for the White House in 2024.
"The idea of prosecuting a former president for anything is pretty extraordinary," said Steven Schwinn, a law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago. "But Trump's actions were pretty extraordinary."
While the Mar-a-Lago raid appears to center around the mishandling of classified documents, Trump is also facing legal scrutiny for trying to overturn the results of the November 2020 election and for the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
Trump has not been charged so far in connection with either case but the House committee probing the Capitol riot, in a series of public hearings, has laid out a roadmap for Garland to potentially follow.
Whether he will do so is the burning question in the nation's capital.
The raid on Trump's Florida home ignited a political firestorm and indicting him would ratchet up tensions even further in a country already bitterly divided along Democratic and Republican lines.
Garland is politically astute enough to foresee the consequences of going after Trump, Schwinn said, and has "complicated considerations to put in the balance."
"On the one hand, Garland has got to be thinking about what his job is -- and that is enforcing the rule of law," he said.
"On the other hand, he is undoubtedly aware that any criminal pursuit of President Trump is going to embolden his base and has already led to threats of violence against federal officers and others."
'Without fear or favor'
Trump and his Republican allies have already accused Garland, who was named the country's top law enforcement official by Democratic President Joe Biden, of "weaponizing" the Justice Department for political purposes.
"Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before," Trump said after the raid on Mar-a-Lago, calling it a "witch hunt" by vengeful Democrats.
The FBI raid prompted Trump ally Marjorie Taylor Greene to introduce a resolution in the House to impeach Garland for a "blatant attempt to persecute a political opponent."
It has no chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled chamber.
On the left, some Democrats have accused Garland of moving too slowly in taking legal action against a former president they believe should be behind bars for mounting an insurrection.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, the professorial and soft-spoken Garland is no stranger to high-profile investigations.
As a federal prosecutor, he notably led the probe into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by far-right extremists that left 168 people dead. He also prosecuted Ted Kaczynski, the "Unabomber."
Garland went on to serve as chief judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and was nominated to the Supreme Court by president Barack Obama in March 2016.
But the Republican majority in the Senate declined to hold a vote on his nomination and it was the next president -- Donald Trump -- who ended up filling the vacant seat.
A stickler for protocol, Garland has tried to adhere to the Justice Department's policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations.
He was forced to abandon his usual reticence amid the furor sparked by the FBI raid and briefly addressed reporters last week, citing what he called the "substantial public interest in this matter."
He said the decision to search Trump's home was not taken "lightly" and stressed that "the rule of law means applying the law evenly without fear or favor."