Dan Cox, Wes Moore clash on abortion, elections and more in only Maryland governor debate

Maryland's Democratic and Republican candidates for governor finally met Wednesday during the season's only scheduled debate, showcasing several key differences on issues from abortion, to elections, and the racial wealth gap.

Republican state Delegate Dan Cox, Frederick/Carroll, and Democratic nominee Wes Moore, a former nonprofit CEO, met at the Owings Mills campus of Maryland Public Television for an hourlong debate with less than four weeks to go until the Nov. 8 general election.

The state's current governor, Republican Larry Hogan, who has held office since 2015 and is set to leave office in January due to term limits, was a frequent talking point for both candidates.

With Moore leading Cox by 32-points in a Sept. 27 poll conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland, the one-term state delegate backed by former president Donald Trump invoked standing with Hogan on issues of public safety during his opening statement. Hogan has said publicly he will not support Cox, his party's nominee, for governor.

Here are some key points from the debate:

More:From City Hall intern to Democratic nominee, Wes Moore has former mayor Schmoke behind him

More:Dan Cox, once a small town official, now aims for governor's mansion

Moore backs constitutional amendment on abortion, Cox appeals to status quo

"Maryland can be a state that protects abortion rights and abortion access," said Moore, in his opening statement. The issue, placed in the national spotlight after this summer's Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade, showed a sharp contrast between the candidates.

Cox, who called himself "pro-life," said there is nothing, as governor, that can be done to override or to change the state's law on abortion.

In 1991, the Maryland State Legislature approved measures to protect a woman’s right to have such a procedure should the highest court in the land ever overturn Roe. Voters approved the measure in 1992 with 62% of the vote.

Moore, who supported a failed constitutional amendment last year in support of abortion, said he would back the amendment again, if elected governor.

More:Maryland Election 2022: Get to know the candidates for governor

Moore: Will 'honor' election results, hopes opponent does the same

The debate's first question, though, was about the election itself and whether the candidates would support the results.

Cox said in July of this year that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" despite that claim being rejected by the nation's courts. During Wednesday's debate, he said he "always accepted results that are fair."

His Democratic counterpart led by reading a tweet from Cox, sent before his attendance at then-President Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally held in advance of the Jan. 6 insurrection on the United States Capitol. Cox attended the rally, but did not participate in the events at the Capitol building. Moore defended the state's election process.

"We have free, fair and transparent elections in our state," Moore said. "I will honor the results of the election and I'm hoping that my opponent will do the same."

Cox cites pandemic lockdown when asked about racial wealth gap

In response to a question about what actions the governor can take to close the racial wealth gap between Black and white families, Cox harked back to the pandemic, asserting people were "robbed of their business."

Moore took a broader view.

"The impacts of racial disparities did not start two years ago," he said. "We have an 8-to-1 racial wealth gap in our state."

"It's not pretend," said Moore, "and it's not because one group was working eight times harder."

As a piece of the solution, he proposed meeting the state's own goal of 29 percent minority business participation in its procurement process. Last fiscal year, the state reached a 17.2 percent minority business participation rate.

Hogan gets an 'A' (with a caveat) from Cox, an "incomplete" from Moore

When asked to grade the performance of the current governor, Republican Larry Hogan, the candidates diverged in their grading policies.

Cox, the sole member of the General Assembly who tried to impeach Hogan earlier this year due to his pandemic policies, gave his fellow Republican an "'A,' on everything except our difference of opinion on handling COVID."

He cited Hogan's tax policies, school choice stance, and support for police as reasons for his grade. Almost three quarters (73 percent) of registered voters in Maryland approved of Hogan's performance, according to a Sept. 27 survey.

Moore thanked the outgoing governor for not supporting Cox and denouncing early the Trump-led "MAGA movement" before transitioning to an economic critique of Hogan.

"We've got to move faster," said Moore, advocating for apprentice and trade programs while calling for the reduction of regulatory red tape for small businesses.

When pressed by MPT's Jeff Salkin for a letter grade for the state's current leader, Moore parried.

"Well, he's not done yet, so it's incomplete," he said.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. Early voting starts on Oct. 27 and runs through Nov. 3. Those looking to register to vote or request a mail-in ballot can do so at the state board of elections' website: https://www.elections.maryland.gov/

Dwight A. Weingarten is an investigative reporter, covering the Maryland State House and state issues. He can be reached at dweingarten@gannett.com or on Twitter at @DwightWeingart2.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Cox, Moore make pitch to be Maryland's next governor during debate