Republican Dan Cox laser-focused on the economy, crime and education in Maryland governor’s race

Dan Cox, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Maryland, says he’s not getting bogged down in the news media’s obsession with abortion politics and is instead “focused like a laser” on quality of life issues that are top-of-mind to most voters.

Billed as a major underdog in his race against Democrat Wes Moore, Mr. Cox said he is confident he can win because of his willingness to meet voters on their turf, listen to what they say and address their most pressing concerns: the economy, crime and education.

“The issues moving forward are the moderate issues that we all hold dear,” Mr. Cox, a first-term state delegate from western Maryland, said in an interview with The Washington Times. “And those include safe streets, ending the crisis in our education system by including parents and empowering parents to have their voices heard, and to protect our children, and ensuring that our economy once again flourishes.”

The message is a pivot from the GOP primary race in which Mr. Cox emerged from relative obscurity after embracing former President Donald Trump and his claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by Democrats.

Mr. Cox expanded his support by staking out conservative positions on abortion, guns and transgender athletes. 

Mr. Trump blessed Mr. Cox’s primary bid, helping him defeat Gov. Larry Hogan’s preferred primary pick, Kelly Schulz, a former member of the Hogan Cabinet. 

The Cook Political Report, after the primary, shifted the race from “Lean Democrat” to “Solid Democrat.”

The consensus is Mr. Cox’s Trump-inspired brand of politics is going to be a tough sell in November in deep-blue Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two to one.

Though he still stands by the stances that drove his primary success, Mr. Cox is making it clear the thrust of his message now centers on his plans to boost the economy, strengthen schools and reduce rampant crime.

“The people of Maryland are tired of politicians who do not respond to their concerns,” he said.

Mr. Cox said a centerpiece of his economic vision is eliminating the state income tax, making the case it would boost workers and make the state more competitive. 

On schools, he said, “We can’t just throw money at them, we have to sit down and actually fix them with policy changes.”

Mr. Cox said he is interested in establishing a “prosecutorial board” tasked with working with state attorneys and elected leaders in Baltimore and other crime-challenged areas to make sure violent criminals are not released from prison in a matter of days.

He also said he is open to receivership for Baltimore to help combat rising crime — a move Mr. Hogan shied away from, saying it wasn’t legal without declaring a state of emergency.

As for abortion, Mr. Cox passed on the chance to say whether he supports new federal restrictions, including the proposed ban on the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy that Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, rolled out this week.

“I’m not able to comment on what Congress is doing,” Mr. Cox said. “Now, if there are laws that are being proposed, I would have to read those and determine how that would apply and what would be the intended purpose, but that’s really not an issue on the campaign trail right now.”

If elected, Mr. Cox would have the tall task of shepherding his “freedom” agenda through what is most likely to be a Democrat-dominated legislature.

Mr. Cox said he plans to reach across party lines to advance his policy vision and use the power of the governor’s bully pulpit to drive the debate.

“I intend to bring people into the public spotlight with the appropriate press conferences, and public hearings and public forums, to make their voices heard loud and clear,” he said. “And through that public discussion, that is unavoidable, the Democrats in the legislature that may have special interests, at times, will certainly be more inclined to listen to the policy concerns that we need to address.”

Mr. Cox also said that Mr. Moore’s vision is out of step with most Marylanders, warning the first-time Democratic candidate from Baltimore embraces the heavy-handed, big-government Biden approach. That approach, Mr. Cox said, fueled inflation and hurt workers by making it harder to make ends meet. 

“The Moore-Biden approach is a disaster,” he said. “It’s hurting everyone in Maryland.”

Still, Mr. Cox has his work cut out for him. On the fundraising front, he lags far behind Mr. Moore. And when it comes to unifying the party, he’s still battling the popular two-term, staunchly anti-Trump Republican governor.

Mr. Hogan, who couldn’t run for governor again because of term limits, has been unrelenting in his criticism of Mr. Cox. He said in a radio interview last month that Mr. Cox is not “mentally stable.” 

“Half of Republicans don’t support the guy because he’s a nut,” Mr. Hogan said.

Mr. Cox shrugged off the jab, saying he is looking forward, not backward.

“The people of Maryland have already rebuked him. They are moving on,” Mr. Cox said, referring to his defeat of Mr. Hogan’s hand-picked successor in the primary.