Dan Cox, a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, speaks with reporters during a primary election night event on July 19, 2022 in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
CNN  — 

Maryland Republicans chose state lawmaker Dan Cox, an election denier who has taken a series of hard-line conservative positions, as their nominee for what will be one of the most difficult governor’s offices for the party to hold in November’s midterms, CNN projected.

Elections officials on Tuesday night had begun what could be a weeks-long process of counting ballots. County officials were barred from beginning to process the record-breaking number of mail-in ballots for a primary election until after in-person voting concluded.

Cox won the GOP race to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Larry Hogan – an outcome that showcased Republican voters’ willingness to scrap what had been a winning formula in the deep-blue state after Hogan angered his own party with his criticism of Trump and his public safety measures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s not yet clear which Democrat Cox will face; author Wes Moore and former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez were the leading vote-getters as ballots were being counted Tuesday night.

The primary was a proxy fight between former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Cox, and Hogan, who endorsed his former commerce secretary, Kelly Schulz.

That Hogan had won two terms in Maryland was a feat: Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state, two-to-one; the state hasn’t backed a GOP presidential candidate since 1988. But Hogan is seen as one of the GOP’s most moderate figures.

Cox has stoked fears about election fraud. He said in December 2020 on Facebook that Trump should seize voting machines. He chartered three buses to Trump’s January 6, 2021, rally in Washington. And he tweeted amid the insurrection, “Pence is a traitor.”

He has also threatened a lawsuit over mail-in ballots.

Democrats believe Cox poses a much easier general election match-up than Schultz would have. The Democratic Governors Association spent more than $1 million on television advertisements that highlighted Trump’s endorsement and Cox’s most conservative positions – a tactic intended to boost Republican support for Cox but diminish his standing among moderates headed into November’s general election.

Those spots highlighted his opposition to gun restrictions and abortion rights and his endorsement from Trump. One calls Cox “too close to Trump, too conservative for Maryland.”

Schultz, in a news conference with Hogan last month, said that Democrats are attempting to “spend a million now and save $5 million by not having to face me in the general election.”

The marquee contest on Maryland’s primary ballots Tuesday was the governor’s race. Hogan, who is among his party’s most moderate figures and one who has frequently criticized Trump, is barred by term limits from seeking reelection.

His departure has turned the primaries in the governor’s race – one unfolding in a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by about two-to-one, but where the GOP has held the governor’s office for 12 of the last 20 years – into a window into the larger battles unfolding in both parties on the national stage.

Democrats saw a wide-open showdown featuring 10 candidates – a field that included Perez, Oprah Winfrey-backed Moore, state comptroller Peter Franchot, former US Education Secretary John King and Doug Gansler, the former Maryland attorney general and failed 2014 gubernatorial candidate.

The primaries in the governor’s race are the most closely watched contests on Tuesday’s slate in Maryland, where the election was pushed back three weeks due to litigation over the state’s legislative maps.

Election results could take days or even weeks to finalize. According to Maryland’s Board of Elections, more than 508,000 people requested mail-in ballots – shattering previous records for primaries. Counties cannot begin counting those ballots until Thursday, and elections officials say some counties could still be counting mail-in ballots in the first week of August.

Gubernatorial primaries

Several candidates for governor would make history in a state that has only ever elected White men as its chief executive.

Perez, the former DNC chairman, emphasized his national experience as well as his local roots. He is a former Montgomery County councilman and was Maryland’s labor secretary prior to joining former President Barack Obama’s Justice Department as assistant attorney general for civil rights and later, Obama’s US labor secretary.

A Perez ad used Obama’s previous comments about Perez, with the former President calling Perez “tireless” and “wicked smart.”

Moore, meanwhile, aired an ad voiced by Winfrey, in which the television star calls Moore a friend and walks through his resume. Winfrey calls Moore “the type of transformational leader that these times demand.”

On a hot Election Day in Maryland, voters filed into their polling places. Portia Thompson, who said she has been voting since 1974, voted for Perez at the Colmar Manor Community Center and Town Hall.

“I think he would represent everyone. African Americans, Latinos, everyone. He also worked in President Obama’s administration, so I thought he had the experience,” Thompson said of Perez.

Down the ballot

The outcome of another major race was also clear Tuesday night: Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen easily fended off a Democratic primary challenge on Tuesday, according to a CNN projection.

Van Hollen, who suffered a minor stroke in May, defeated a primary challenge from Michelle Smith, a Freedom of Information Act policy analyst with the US Agency for International Development. Ten Republicans are vying to take on the winner of that primary, but Van Hollen is heavily favored to win a second term.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who is the chamber’s No. 2-ranking member, also won his primary, CNN projected.

CNN projected that Rep. Anthony Brown will win the Democratic primary in the Maryland attorney general’s race.

Brown, the lieutenant governor under former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley who is leaving his US House seat after three terms, defeated O’Malley’s wife, Katie Curran O’Malley, a former Baltimore City district court judge.

The primary in the attorney general’s race is effectively the general election in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to the post in more than 100 years. (One Republican, Edward Rollins, was appointed to the post in 1952.)

Brown, a Harvard-educated former military lawyer, would become the first Black person to serve as Maryland attorney general. He was backed by VoteVets, which supports Democratic candidates with military experience. The group aired TV ads criticizing O’Malley over her charge that Brown “doesn’t have the right experience for this job.”

One of Maryland’s eight congressional seats is open this fall: The heavily Democratic 4th District seat, currently held by Brown, features former Rep. Donna Edwards facing former Prince George’s County state’s attorney Glenn Ivey in the Democratic primary.

Edwards has high-profile supporters, including Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Ivey is being bolstered by ads attacking Edwards from the super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Thompson said she decided to vote for Glenn Ivey in the 4th District race because she believes he’s a “great gentleman.”

“I don’t really have a negative opinion of Donna Edwards, but I like Glenn Ivey and his family. I like his wife. She comes around and will sit on your porch and talk to you,” she said.

Marcela Orellano, 38, was at the East County Community Recreation Center in Silver Spring at 9:30 a.m. because she’s “terrified about the presidential election.” Although she said there is not a specific candidate that she’s very excited for in the Maryland primary, she wants to see change and is concerned about gun laws, women’s rights and immigration policies.

“I want to make sure I make a difference at least on the state level. I’m looking for Democrats to fight for the things that are important to me,” Orellano said.

Sharda Ramdat, a 46-year-old mother, said gun violence and abortion rights are her top priorities.

“I am worried for my kids every single day, and I feel like there’s no place you can have a moment of your own space. That’s a big deal. I really want change, especially with gun laws,” she said.

Ramdat said she was excited for Moore and believes he’s the best fit because he “had a hard life growing up” and would “understand where the middle class and poor people are coming from.”

Robin Jones, 68, said affordable housing is one of her top priorities and that she is most focused on local issues affecting her community.

“I went to work at the phone company at 17, and I could afford an apartment making $125 a week. Now an apartment is the same amount as a mortgage, and there’s just nowhere for folks to live,” Jones said.