Biden fires up Democratic faithful at midterms rally with Maryland party leaders

Fresh from a series of policy wins, President Joe Biden kicked off the general election campaign season Thursday night with a well-attended rally at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville.

Roused by an exuberant crowd in deeply Democratic Montgomery County, leading national and state party leaders expressed growing hope for Democrats nationally in the November mid-term elections.

“Let me state the obvious, there’s a lot at stake in this election,” Biden told the crowd of more than 2,400 in the school gymnasium.

The event was studded with Maryland’s own Democratic powerhouses, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Sen. Ben Cardin and the Democratic nominees for governor and lieutenant governor, Wes Moore and Aruna Miller.

Moore sat on stage with Biden during the president’s speech.

After being introduced by Moore, Biden opened his 29-minute speech with generous remarks about several Maryland Democrats who had spoken before him, sprinkled with some good-natured ribbing.

“Wes is the real deal. Folks, he is a combat veteran. The only drawback is, he’s a Rhodes Scholar.”

Speaking of Maryland’s U.S. senators, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, Biden told the crowd, “You have literally two of the best senators in the United States.”

“They’re strong and principled and effective,” he said. “Keep them. You need them. No, I need them.”

Biden turned next to the two members of the House of Representatives who spoke, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Jamie Raskin.

“Steny Hoyer, he’s been my friend for a long time. And how about that Jamie Raskin? He’s done an incredible job coming out of tragic circumstances for his family.”

A long list of party celebrities and statewide candidates served as warm-up acts to Biden, offering many of the same talking points about Democratic accomplishments of the past 18 months — the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, bipartisan infrastructure act, gun reform laws — and drew contrasts with the Republican party under the influence of former President Donald Trump.

Some of the loudest bouts of applause throughout the night were for Biden’s student debt relief plan announced earlier in the week.

Vows to restore and protect reproductive rights also received especially loud cheers.

Biden promised the crowd that if Democrats win a majority in Congress, he would codify the rights once guaranteed by Roe v. Wade and said “I’m going to ban assault weapons in this country.”

“Were going to do it for your kids. Who are going to learn how to read and write in school, instead of duck and cover,” Biden said.

But the Democratic luminaries also stressed that they would not take anything for granted in the upcoming general election.

“People have said to me since our primary win: ‘Isn’t it great that you have to go up against Dan Cox?’” Moore told the crowd. “My answer is clear and consistent: Do not underestimate what we’re up against.”

Moore continued: “It is not ‘great’ that in November we are facing an election denier. An insurrectionist who called for Mike Pence to be hung for certifying a free and fair election,” Moore said. “For me, patriotism meant leaving my family and wearing my country’s uniform and leading soldiers with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan. For Dan Cox, patriotism meant organizing buses to join him at the capitol on January 6th.”

The emotional crest of the 2 1/2 long program was delivered by Raskin, long a folk hero in his Montgomery County-based district but rapidly becoming a national progressive icon due to his regular prosecution of the legal and political cases against Trump and his defense of U.S. democracy.

To wild cheers and applause, Raskin sought to delineate the differences between Democrats and Republicans, name-checking Thomas Jefferson, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, John Lewis, “the great Elijah Cummings,” and “the last great Republican president, Abraham Lincoln” along the way.

He ended his speech by quoting Frederick Douglass and Thomas Paine.

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered,” Raskin said. “…The more difficult the struggle, the more glorious the end.”

Hoyer, known over his 55 years in Maryland politics for his long and passionate speeches, lamented having to follow Raskin on the program.

“These are the times that try Steny Hoyer’s soul, going after Jamie Raskin,” he quipped.

Republicans counter

Maryland Republicans and conservatives had hoped to use Biden’s appearance in Rockville for some counter-programming – and to publicize their own agenda.

But it didn’t entirely work out as planned.

Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick), the GOP nominee for governor, had scheduled a news conference for Thursday afternoon outside the Montgomery County Circuit Courthouse in Rockville, just a few blocks from where the Democratic rally was taking place, but he abruptly canceled about two hours beforehand and issued a statement instead.

Promises of a large protest from the conservative group Help Save Maryland also did not appear to materialize. No demonstrators could be seen around the vast perimeter of Richard Montgomery High School for the 90 minutes leading up to the Democratic rally. Three separate Democratic operatives reported seeing two teenaged boys near the premises earlier in the day, one with a “Let’s Go Brandon” banner – a coded epithet for Biden – and the other wearing a “Reagan ‘84” T-shirt.

Two hours before the doors at Richard Montgomery opened, the Republican National Committee hosted a telephone news conference with Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington), who is challenging U.S. Rep. David Trone (D) this year (Trone addressed the Democratic rally in a video).

“We’re here to discuss the costly failures of Joe Biden and Democrats like David Trone,” Parrott said at the top of his 20-minute presentation. “He can’t run away from his 100% voting record where he’s supported the Biden policies and Nancy Pelosi’s policies.”

Parrott, who lost to Trone by 20 points in 2020 but has a considerably better chance of winning this time thanks to new congressional district lines and a more favorable national political climate for the GOP, used the forum to discuss his life and career in politics and as a traffic engineer.

Parrott criticized Democratic programs for contributing to the nation’s high inflation rate, but mostly pledged to bring “good government policies” to Congress. He highlighted his work to defeat Democratic gerrymandering attempts in Maryland.

Parrott also accused Trone of being out of touch with his district, which takes in a piece of western Montgomery County and then extends west to Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties.

“I’ve focused on my constituents,” he said. “My opponent votes in a partisan manner…Trone is totally supporting President Biden. Trone doesn’t live inside the district. He’s a D.C. insider. I live right in the center of the district, in Hagerstown.”

Parrott urged reporters who were listening in to pay attention to his race.

“As you’re following this election, you’re going to see that it’s close,” he said. “People want good government. They want more money in their pockets.”

In his statement, Cox sought to tie Moore to unpopular Biden policies.

“I will win this November and vigorously serve the people of Maryland as governor because the failed policies of the Biden Administration which Wes Moore is praising, advancing and will implement are disastrous for Maryland,” he said. “This could not be better highlighted as it is today with President Joe Biden’s visit to Richard Montgomery High School to campaign for Wes Moore in-person while Wes Moore appears to be avoiding in-person debates with me.”

Cox also made reference to past COVID-19 public health protocols, a staple of his campaign stump speeches.

“The people of Maryland want their freedom back. We want our state back. I will work hard and will implement the constitutional and pro-freedom policies that Marylanders want and deserve.”

Biden’s speech was briefly interrupted by a protester who attempted to shout at the president about the stolen 2020 election but he was quickly shouted down by the crowd and removed from the high school gymnasium.

The heckler was quickly escorted out. He was wearing a suit and as he was being removed he held up two fingers on each hand in a “V,” Nixon-style, and took a brief bow.

Attracting crowds

For hours before the rally, traffic snarled in downtown Rockville, with a massive line of wannabe attendees circling the high school property.

More than 2,400 people crammed into the school’s gymnasium, with nearly 1,300 others in overflow spaces in the school’s cafeteria and auditorium.

Before heading to the main event, Biden briefly appeared in both overflow rooms to greet supporters.

When Biden walked onto the stage in the school’s auditorium, the surprised crowd of several hundred stood up and cheered, according to a pool report.

“The good news of being in an overflow room is you can leave when I start to speak,” Biden told the crowd, which he addressed for about four minutes.

In the cafeteria, Biden posed for a group photo with the crowd, bending down so everybody could fit in the frame. He took three photos with different parts of the crowd behind him.

On the way to the rally, Biden stopped at a fundraiser at a private home in Bethesda. About 100 people were on hand and the event was expected to raise $1 million for the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund.

He told the crowd gathered that he “underestimated how much damage the previous four years had done in terms of America’s reputation in the world” and that the party has “got to win” in November.

WATCH: President Joe Biden joins Wes Moore for DNC rally Thursday at local school

Elections official dies — and governor may be unable to appoint a Democratic replacement: report

Malcolm L. Funn, one of two Democratic members of the State Board of Elections, died unexpectedly Tuesday of complications from hernia surgery. He was 77.

The Calvert County resident’s death comes at a critical time for the state elections board, as it works to certify the results from the July 19 primaries and sets rules and procedures for the upcoming general election — and it adds some uncertainty to the board’s short-term agenda and work product.

Funn’s death also throws the partisan makeup of the board into greater imbalance: State and local elections boards by law have three members from the governor’s political party and two from other parties, so with Funn’s death the state board currently has three Republicans and just one Democrat. Every vote of the state elections board must pass with a supermajority; with only four board members at present, every vote must now be unanimous.

A spokesman for Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), Michael Ricci, said Friday that the governor planned to appoint another Democrat to the board, who would serve through the end of Funn’s term in 2024, after receiving a recommended candidate from the Maryland Democratic Party, as is customary.

But other state officials said it was unclear whether Hogan had the ability to appoint a replacement; state law prevents a term-limited governor from making key appointments to executive branch agencies after the final primary election before his term runs out. The elections board’s status as an independent agency complicates the matter.

“I’ve asked the question myself,” William Voelp, the Republican chair of the State Board of Elections, said in an interview Friday. “There are some gymnastics.”

Nikki Charlson, Maryland’s deputy elections administrator, said the agency is seeking advice from the Office of Attorney General “on whether and how this vacancy can be filled.” A spokeswoman for Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Local boards of elections in Maryland traditionally have alternate members who can serve if another member dies or leaves office. But the state board does not.

What may make it likelier that the governor can appoint a replacement for Funn is that in this instance, Hogan would simply ratify the selection of the state Democratic Party rather than advancing a candidate of his own. Because the General Assembly is not in session, his selection would serve until at least early next year, when the state Senate would begin its confirmation process. Assuming the new board member is confirmed by the Senate, he or she would serve through the end of Funn’s term — June 30, 2024.

Brandon Stoneburg, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, said there is no “pre-made list” of candidates, but that whenever the state receives official word that Hogan can replace Funn, the party’s executive committee would meet to discuss possible candidates and forward a name to the governor. Whenever there is a Democratic vacancy on the State Board of Elections, the legislature’s presiding officers have a major say on the appointment.

“Especially in an election year, we should have a full complement of members on the elections board,” said state Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery), the vice chair of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over elections. “I think it’s important to have strong bipartisan representation so Marylanders have faith in the process and the results of the general election.”

The state elections board has scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday afternoon to, among other things, discuss adjusting calendar dates for certain official steps in the election process to accommodate the fact that a court ordered the state to hold its primary in July, three weeks later than originally scheduled. But it’s also possible that the board will discuss Funn’s vacancy and may also designate one of its members to take over his position as vice chair. Later this summer, the board will hold a meeting to officially certify the primary election results.

But other pressing business remains to be sorted out in the weeks ahead, including whether the board wants to pursue legal action to force the state to open and count general election mail-in ballots before Election Day. Hogan this spring vetoed a bill from Kagan that would have enabled early counts of mail-in ballots during the primary; as a result of his veto, mail-in ballots weren’t opened across the state until two days after the primary, leaving some results still up in the air.

“I cannot speak for the entire board, but I would lean toward wanting to seek court relief to begin counting eight days early,” Voelp said. He added that the board had considered litigation on the timetable for mail-in ballot counting before the primary but felt there wasn’t enough time to successfully pursue a court case and prepare for possible early ballot-counting.

The questions and uncertainty come as Funn’s former colleagues mourn his sudden passing.

“Malcolm and I were kindred spirits and very good friends,” said Voelp, who received an email from Funn at 11:19 p.m. on the day before he died.

Hogan, in a statement provided to Maryland Matters, said Funn “was a deeply dedicated member of his community, and an example for all of us to emulate.”

Former state Sen. Patrick “P.J.” Hogan — no relation to the governor — who served with Funn on the elections board, said he was “shocked and saddened” to learn of his death.

“I enjoyed working with him very much,” he said. “I found him to be inquisitive and thoughtful and very practical as we debated all the nuances of the elections, especially during the two years of the pandemic.”

In contrast to other states, P.J. Hogan, said, the state elections board is “very collegial,” and Funn epitomized that.

Through his life, Funn had a long list of civic engagement, including serving on the Calvert County Planning Commission and the county liquor board, as first vice president of the Calvert County NAACP, and on several other local boards. He was also active with the group Strong Schools Maryland.

The vacancy on the state elections board highlights that the composition of all elections boards in Maryland will change if Democrat Wes Moore is elected to replace Hogan as governor. If that happens, Democrats would gradually take 3-2 control of all those boards.

The terms of elections officials in Baltimore City and the 23 counties run concurrently, giving Moore the opportunity to reconstitute them almost immediately. The terms of local elections board members start the first Monday of June of the year following a gubernatorial election.

The new governor would replace members of the state elections board as their terms expire. The terms of all three Republican members — Voelp, Severn Miller and T. Sky Woodward — expire on June 20, 2023.

If Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick) is elected governor, the elections boards would retain their 3-2 Republican majorities.

Trump-backed Dan Cox slammed for the 'cynical policies of conspiracy theories and fear': report

Wes Moore, whose by-the-bootstraps life story has led to stints as an entrepreneur, nonprofit CEO, and best-selling author, claimed victory Saturday in the Democratic primary for governor, taking him one step closer to the pinnacle of Maryland politics in his first run for elected office.

The Associated Press called the primary for Moore at 11 p.m. Friday, but Moore waited until late Saturday afternoon to acknowledge the victory, waiting for his nearest competitor, former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, to concede.

“Thank you not just for your votes, but for the votes of confidence,” Moore told a roomful of cheering supporters Saturday at his campaign’s field office on Madison Avenue in West Baltimore.

As of Saturday afternoon, the Maryland State Board of Elections showed Moore with 33.77%, Perez with 28.34%, state Comptroller Peter Franchot with 21.47%, and seven other Democratic candidates splitting the rest. Franchot conceded on Friday.

In his concession statement Saturday, which came at about 3:30 p.m., Perez, who also served as Maryland Labor secretary and as chair of the Democratic National Committee, pledged his full support to Moore and his running mate, former Del. Aruna Miller (D-Montgomery).

“I congratulate Wes Moore and Aruna Miller on their hard-fought victory,” Perez said. “Now is the time for us to unite, and I look forward to aggressively working with them to flip Maryland blue this November.”

Moore now heads to a general election with the Republican nominee, Del. Dan Cox, an arch-conservative who has parroted former President Trump’s line that the 2020 White House election was stolen. Some Republican leaders — chief among them Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., who supported Cox’s chief GOP primary opponent, former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz — have tried to distance themselves from Cox. Hogan, who has branded Cox “a QAnon whack job,” earlier this week predicted that Cox could not win the general election.

Moore wasted no time trying to draw contrasts between himself and Cox.

“The choice could not be more clear,” he said, accusing Cox of fomenting divisiveness and promoting “cynical policies of conspiracy theories and fear.”

The fall campaign pits a political novice against a first-term state lawmaker with few legislative accomplishments in a race that Democrats are favored to win. But Democrats, eager to take back Government House after eight years of Hogan, will have to cope with overconfidence and national political headwinds that could boost Republicans.

Moore pledged that Democrats would not take the general election for granted.

“There’s some sense that [Cox] hasn’t been taken seriously in the past,” he said. “I will take my opponent very seriously.”

Although this is first campaign for office, Moore lined up a seasoned campaign team and attracted a steady stream of support from an array of elected officials, including U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, both presiding officers of the General Assembly, former Gov. Parris Glendening, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, and Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger and Kweisi Mfume. He also raised more money than other candidates by a substantial margin.

Two dozen elected officials attended the Moore victory celebration, including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D), who remained neutral during the gubernatorial primary, and Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City), the newly-minted Democratic nominee for state comptroller. Ruppersberger, Alsobrooks and Miller spoke before Moore did.

Moore, 43, was born in Takoma Park and lived in the Washington, D.C., area, but his family’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when his father died of an undiagnosed disease when Moore was 3. His family later moved to the Bronx, and after struggling, Moore eventually went to military school and served in the Army. He got his bachelors degree from Johns Hopkins University, became a Rhodes Scholar, started an education business in Baltimore, and eventually became CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, a New York-based anti-poverty organization.

On Saturday, Moore reiterated his central campaign theme that he plans to lift up Marylanders of all economic stations. He noted his family’s economic struggles while he was growing up, and said, “I’ve seen the consequences of a society that leaves too many people behind. I don’t need a white paper to explain it. I’ve lived it.”

Moore had been urged to run for office before — both for mayor of Baltimore and for Congress following the death of the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) — but turned down those entreaties. When he announced his candidacy for governor in June of 2021, he said he was moved to become a candidate this time because of the unequal devastation in Maryland wrought by COVID-19.

Moore argued throughout the campaign that even though he was seeking the Democratic nomination against several veteran officeholders, he had the most well-rounded experience and was best-equipped to confront the state’s challenges.

On Saturday, he paid tribute to his vanquished Democratic primary opponents and asserted that he would need their help to defeat the Republicans.

“We have good relationships with the other folks who have run for governor and we know we’re going to move in partnership with them,” Moore said. “We need them now. We’re going to need them in November. And we’re going to need them beyond.”

Moore would become the first Black governor of Maryland if he is elected, and his running mate, Miller, would become the first lieutenant governor of Asian descent and the second woman to serve in that position.

“We didn’t get in this race to make history,” Moore said. “We got in this race to make child poverty history. We got in this race to make educational inequality history.”

Democrat drops $10 million to prop up his re-election campaign in Maryland: report

As he prepares for a tough general election against a yet-to-be-determined opponent, U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), whose entire political career has been buoyed by his personal wealth, dropped $10 million of his own wealth into the campaign in late June — a reminder that his resources can be a buffer against any unfavorable political winds.

Trone spent more than $1.3 million between April 1 and June 29, according to newly filed campaign finance reports, and retained $10,760,327 in his campaign account in late June. That dwarfed the cash on hand of the leading Republican candidates who are competing in the six-way July 19 primary. Trone reported campaign debts of $13 million —all from loans he made to his campaign.

Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), who was the 2020 GOP nominee against Trone, reported $344,756 in the bank as of June 29, after raising $140,119 since April 1 and spending $57,148 in that period.

Matthew Foldi, a former journalist with conservative media outlets who entered the race only recently but has come out of the gate with a noteworthy array of endorsements, reported raising $186,896 since April 1 and having $98,800 on hand on June 29 after spending $124,274. He loaned his campaign $35,800 during this period.

Foldi has racked up endorsements in recent weeks from several Republican congressional leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and also recently won support from Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).

Despite Trone’s millions, money won’t be everything in the congressional general election. It’s shaping up to be a good year for Republicans, and congressional redistricting put more conservative territory into the 6th District, removing a good chunk of the Montgomery County portion of the district and substituting it for all of Frederick County.

Even with his personal fortune, accumulated as CEO of the national liquor store chain, Total Wine and More, Trone received a recent $4,000 contribution from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) campaign committee, and $5,800 from Charles Wagner, a California vineyard owner.

As of a week ago, the Cook Political Report rated the 6th District race in the “Lean Democratic” column.

The political tipsheet lists 81 House races across the country of being competitive to one degree or another. Besides the 6th District, no other Maryland races rate a mention on the list — meaning the handicappers do not, at this point, expect the seats to flip from one party to another

Here is a snapshot of fundraising in other Maryland congressional districts:

District 1

Democrat Heather Mizeur, a former state delegate, has outraised Rep. Andy Harris, the lone Republican in the state’s congressional district, this election cycle — and that was also true for the latest reporting period.

Cycle-to-date, Mizeur has reported raising $1,954,067 to Harris’ $1,341,558. Between April 1 and June 29, she raised $248,179, while Harris pulled in $162,821.

But Harris, who is seeking his seventh term, has no major primary opponent and had more cash on hand than Mizeur at the end of June: $1,849,850 to $1,103,317.

Mizeur is squaring off in the Democratic primary against David Harden, a national security consultant who was the subject of a flattering New York Times Opinion profile last week. Harden reported $37,162 on hand as of June 29, after raising $55,756 since April 1.

District 2

Nicolee Ambrose is the clear GOP fundraising frontrunner, and she remains the choice of most of the Republican establishment. Ten-term Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) retains a massive war chest.

Ambrose, the Republican National Committeewoman for Maryland, reported raising $165,409 between April 1 and June 29 and finishing the reporting period with $105,141 on hand.

Ambrose reported a $5,000 contribution from Citizens United — a national conservative organization run by David Bossie, Maryland’s Republican National Committeeman — and a $5,000 contribution from the Conservative Leadership PAC, a political action committee that tries to get young voters behind conservative candidates. Harris contributed $4,000.

Ellen “EJ” McNulty, a former Hogan administration official who is also seeking the seat in the Republican primary, reported just $3,934 on hand.

Ruppersberger was sitting on $1,386,227 as of June 29.

District 3

Eight-term incumbent Rep. John Sarbanes (D) had just shy of $1 million in his war chest on June 29 — $978,748 — dwarfing the campaign treasury of the most high-profile Republican in the five-way primary, former radio host Yuripzy Morgan. She reported $24,660 on hand.

District 4

The leading Democrats, former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey and former Rep. Donna Edwards, are pretty evenly matched financially, but he has the edge: $321,127 on hand to $243,247. Much of the spending in the race is coming from outside sources.

District 5

U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D) remains a champion fundraiser — and he also funnels plenty of money to his needy colleagues. Hoyer raised $634,780 between April 1 and June 29 and parceled out $771,789 during that time. He finished the fundraising period with $1,272,529 on hand.

District 7

Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D) is the overwhelming favorite to win another term. He banked $523,183 as of June 29.

District 8

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D) is similarly well-situated for re-election, and he’s become a fundraising juggernaut since gaining prominence during President Trump’s second impeachment and now through his work on House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Raskin raised $677,679 since April 1 and finished the reporting period with $2,780,601 on hand, after distributing $360,641 — much of it to colleagues.

U.S. Senate

As he marches to an almost certain second term, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) had $4,059,190 in his campaign account at the end of June.