The only scheduled confrontation in a lopsided campaign, the debate offered Cox a rare chance to pierce the air of inevitability surrounding Moore. Moore, the Democratic candidate leading the polls by 32 percentage points, sought to motivate voters in the deep blue state to show up and cast a vote by painting Cox as extreme.
Cox, a far-right, conservative state delegate endorsed by former President Donald Trump, had the most at stake heading into the exchange. Moore, a best-selling author and former head of one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty organizations, has a leading fundraising lead with four weeks to go until Election Day.
The debate, which began and ended with the two men shaking hands, was often contentious and at times aggressive.
In a series of sharp exchanges, Cox called Moore’s efforts to close the racial wealth gap a “racist” transfer of resources, and Moore labeled Cox “an extremist pro-choice denier.”
Cox called Moore a “phony” and claimed his book “The Other Wes Moore” was full of passages that were “completely false.” Moore has previously fended off claims that he misunderstood about he was born in Baltimore. He later said Cox, who has claimed the 2020 presidential election was “stolen”, was a candidate with “dangerous and divisive” politics.
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Some of the sharpest divisions came when the men discussed abortion: Moore said Maryland should be a “safe haven” for health decisions made between a woman and her doctor, and Cox said he was “pro-life” and would “ensure that everyone is safe and that women and children and the unborn all have equal protection and are supported by our laws.”
Both candidates sought to capitalize on Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) popularity by drawing favorable comparisons to the term-limited governor. Hogan hasn’t given an endorsement in the race, but he has called Cox a “QAnon whack job” who he doesn’t see fit to tour the governor’s office, let alone lead it.
Still, Cox tried to align with Hogan during the debate, saying he has worked on the governor’s crime task force and stood with him against tax increases.
Asked by a moderator to give Hogan a letter grade, Cox assigned an “A,” except for how the governor handled pandemic restrictions. Moore pointed out that Cox tried to accuse Hogan of these restrictions.
“He was standing alone,” Moore said. “Even his Republican colleagues didn’t.”
Moore dodged the question by letter, offering Hogan an “incomplete” but praising him for “being so early and full-throated about the danger of this MAGA movement.”
Moore went on to say that the economy has not improved fast enough for enough people. He said that as governor he would try to make sure people have the right skills to apply for open jobs, to focus on public education that values more than college acceptance, and to expand access to affordable child care so women, who wish to become a member again. the workforce has an easier path.
Cox shot back that Moore’s proposals are expensive, predicting, “You’re going to see tax increases like never before. Tolls are going to go up.”
As he did several times during the hour-long debate, Moore responded, “That’s not true.”
Cox also accused Moore of supporting “transgender indoctrination in kindergarten,” which Moore said is not something he has ever said.
Most Md. voters say elementary school debate on LGBTQ acceptance
Pressed by a moderator to explain what he thinks is happening in elementary schools, Cox said he believes kindergartners are seeing a book called “Gender Queer” that depicts acts “so disgusting” that he couldn’t describe them on television. The book, which has become a target of the conservative-dominated parental rights movement across the country, is a memoir by Maia Kobabe about growing up asexual and nonbinary.
Moore, in turn, went on to say that Cox’s proposal to cut income and business taxes would eliminate the state’s primary source of revenue and bankrupt the state. “It’s not an ideological position,” he said. “It’s math.”
Cox has not detailed the extent of his tax cuts, but he broadly proposed eliminating or reducing them.
The candidates disagreed on issues as fundamental as the legacy of racism and wealth in this country.
When a moderator asked the candidates about damages and how to deal with inflation, which, given the long-documented racial wealth gap, falls more heavily on many black families, Cox rejected the premise of the question, calling his opponent a “racist” for proposing “remedial actions” such as fixing the problem. the state procurement system and dealing with discriminatory practices in housing assessments.
Cox said the only wealth gap that deserves compensation is one created by lockdowns during the pandemic. He accused Moore, who has made equity a pillar of his campaign pitch, of “transferring wealth away from people because of the color of their skin. It’s racist; it’s wrong.”
Moore, who is black and led an anti-poverty nonprofit called the Robin Hood Foundation, shot back with a hint of exasperation.
“The consequences of racial disparity did not start two years ago, Delegate Cox,” he said. “We see something that has been a long-term challenge that our state needs to grapple with and address. The fact that we have an 8 to 1 racial wealth gap in our state is real. It’s not pretend, and it’s not because one group works eight times harder.”
Cox, who unsuccessfully challenged plans to count ballots submitted early, again refused to say whether he planned to accept the results of the November election, saying it would be tantamount to declaring an operation a success before it has taken place. Noting that the state gives candidates the right to ask questions in an election, he said he intended to maintain that process.
Cox has struggled to shift from the far-right stance that consolidated GOP support in the primary. A cross-party appeal is critical for Republicans in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
Meanwhile, Moore, who is making his first bid for public office after winning the primary, said he wants voters not only to vote against Cox, but to support Moore’s vision for the state.
As a political newcomer, Moore is still pitching to voters — especially the disaffected Republicans and independents he’s courting. He had accumulated $1.3 million in his coffers by the end of August, edging Cox by a 10-1 margin.
Cox, who has criticized Moore for not agreeing to more debates, said after the debate that he hopes his opponent’s campaign will agree to more.
Asked if he would share the stage with Cox again, Moore smiled and said, “I think I’m good.”