Dan Cox upended the established order in Maryland’s Republican major. The place will the election for governor take him? – Baltimore Solar
More than 100 days ahead of Maryland’s primary and facing an uphill battle against three rivals, Del. Dan Cox stood proudly on the floor of the House of Delegates to introduce his wife and 10 children, expressing confidence he would be the Republican Party’s gubernatorial nominee.
“I just wanted to real quickly let the body know my bride, Valerie, [and] the future first family of Maryland is here visiting me today in the gallery,” a smiling Cox said. Some colleagues clapped. Others jeered.
But the Trump-endorsed, anti-abortion backbencher went on to defeat fellow Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s hand-picked successor in the July 19 primary, widening a rift between Trump and Hogan supporters in Maryland’s GOP.
He’s got another mountain to scale in the Nov. 8 race against Wes Moore. Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in Maryland and Moore is out-fundraising him at a rate of 10-to-1. But as the GOP nominee, Cox, 48, is closer to the governor’s office than early polls, the media and political scientists ever imagined.
By now, many voters have heard Cox is a “Make America Great Again” Republican, arranged for buses to the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, won’t say whether he’ll accept the results of his gubernatorial race or that Hogan dubbed him a “QAnon whack job.”
So, where did he come from? And what happens to him on Election Day — and in the ballot-counting days that follow?
He’s a father of 10, ranging from a baby to a 25-year-old, and is one of 10 children himself.
“I named my son Daniel after the prophet Daniel in the Bible,” Cox’s father, Gary, said in an interview at his son’s primary victory party. “I was awe-struck that it’s possible for people of faith to live their faith and, in the process, to impact the culture around them for good.”
Gary Cox is the founder and superintendent of Wellspring Christian Family Schools, an organization that offers support services to families who home-school their children. Dan Cox enrolled in the school as a child, and served as a high school instructor and registrar from 1995 to 2005. According to its website, Wellspring Christian Family Schools is a faith-based, home-school organization that requires “meaningful church attendance for all enrolled families” and emphasizes parents’ involvement.
Cox attended Mount St. Mary’s University, a Catholic college in Emmitsburg, from 1992 through 1995, then earned a bachelor’s degree in government and politics in 2002 from what’s now University of Maryland Global Campus. In 2006, he received a law degree from Regent University in Virginia Beach, which was founded by televangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson.
Cox announced on July 4, 2021, that he would run for governor, but his interest in politics was evident 20 years earlier.
Cox and his wife, Valerie, were living in the Eastern Shore town of Secretary in 2001 when they wrote a letter to The Dorchester Star about a state bill to bar discrimination against people based on their sexual identity in employment, housing and other areas. They said it would violate the rights of “business owners … who firmly believe homosexuality is sin and those who practice it are in danger of temporal disease and eternal death.”
“I love civil rights, as many bigoted business owners have been stopped from persecution of people because of their skin color or ethnicity. But there is no bigotry in standing strong against an action,” the letter said. “Homosexuality is not the same thing as being African-American or Hispanic.” The legislature passed the anti-discrimination bill.
In 2006, Cox ran an unsuccessful clerk of court campaign in Dorchester County. According to a 2006 report from The Star, Cox’s platform included establishing a division to help fathers gain visitation and ensure mothers receive child support. It also included a plan to refuse to issue licenses for same-sex marriages, which were not legal in Maryland at the time.
Cox won office in 2008 in Secretary, which had around 500 residents at the time. He served a term on the Town Commission, and was its president.
Cox has described himself as both a “constitutional” and “civil rights” attorney. Cox founded a law firm in 2007; according to his most recent legislative ethics disclosure filing, it netted over $200,000 in 2021.
He’s litigated cases that included a challenge to public health restrictions Hogan established during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit was dismissed in November 2020. Also, Cox represented a father and son who sued the Harford County Board of Elections in 2020, alleging their civil rights were violated when they couldn’t vote without masks. That case, too, was dismissed.
In 2016, Cox ran unsuccessfully against then-state Sen. Jamie Raskin in parts of Carroll, Frederick and Montgomery counties to represent Maryland’s 8th District in Congress. Raskin won with 61% of the vote to Cox’s 34%, and went on to help lead the impeachment trial against Trump after the Jan. 6 riot.
During the attack on the Capitol, Cox tweeted Republican Vice President Mike Pence was “a traitor.” Cox has said he was not involved in the building’s takeover.
“The nice thing I’d like to say is that he has nice and very patient kids who were brought to every protracted, interminable debate and forum that we had,” Raskin told The Baltimore Sun.
Raskin contrasted Cox’s campaigning with his.
“He has extremist politics and a conspiratorial cast of mind. I’m devoted to grassroots, door-to-door campaigning,” Raskin said. “As far as I can tell, they weren’t doing any of that. He really was just trying to organize right-wing elements online.”
With a congressional seat not in the cards, Cox ran a successful campaign in 2018 for a term in the Maryland House of Delegates representing areas of Frederick and Carroll. In a field with three Republicans and three Democrats running for the district’s three seats, he finished at the top with 21% of the vote.
Cox filed 84 bills in four years in the House, including a 2022 resolution to impeach Hogan. The Democrat-controlled legislature passed two Cox bills, both from his first session: one requiring a sign about National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline in every state courthouse and another creating a task force to study crime classification and penalties.
He voted this year against a bill prohibiting schools from discriminating against LGBTQ students and their families. He supported an amendment similar to a “Don’t Say Gay” policy in Florida that prohibits teachers from discussing sexuality and gender in public schools. The amendment failed and the Maryland bill became law this summer.
Cox opposes the expansion of LGBTQ rights in education, highlighting at several turns during his gubernatorial campaign his belief that addressing issues of gender, sex and sexual orientation in schools equates to “indoctrination” and “propaganda,” and that schools are participating in “brainwashing” and “sexual grooming.”
Cox is vocal about parental involvement in education. He introduced an unsuccessful bill in 2022 that would have allowed parents to object to instructional materials if they disagreed with the content on moral, philosophical and religious grounds. The bill also would have allowed parents to keep a child from studying some of their school’s health curriculum.
The many unknowns swirling around the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in its early days, afforded Cox and other politicians a way to raise their profiles and connect with voters. Cox and Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, now that state’s GOP gubernatorial nominee, used Facebook to urge their respective governors to roll back public health restrictions they deemed onerous.
Mastriano and Cox, both endorsed by Trump, have struck up a friendship. Trump gave Cox a shoutout last month at a rally for Mastriano.
Trump is hosting a fundraiser Monday for Cox at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. For $25,000, attendees can stand alongside Cox and the former president for a photo. It’s not clear how much of that money Cox gets; the Maryland limit for a campaign contribution to a candidate is $6,000.
Cox, often a showman, is no stranger to controversy.
Ahead of the primary, Cox ambushed a June campaign event for Republican Kelly Schulz, Hogan’s pick to succeed him. Standing just feet away, Cox yelled, “Defamation, sir!” when the governor called him a “QAnon conspiracy theorist.”
During a House debate in 2021, Cox compared a bill to expand access for preteens to mental health care without parental consent to Nazi experimentation on Jews. And he did it on Holocaust Remembrance Day, while wearing a mask printed with a depiction of the Nuremberg trials at which the Allies sought to bring Nazi officials to justice after World War II.
In July, Cox defeated Schulz 52% to 43% to become the GOP nominee. But establishment Republicans — notably Hogan; Barry Glassman, the Republican nominee for state comptroller; and GOP leaders in the Maryland House and Senate — have not endorsed him.
Republican Del. Ric Metzgar of Baltimore County said he was the first House member to endorse Cox in his gubernatorial bid. He told The Sun that his constituents made it clear they were not interested in seeing Schulz provide the equivalent of a “third term” for Hogan.
“People in my district said to me, ‘Delegate, if they’re connected to Governor Hogan, I’m not voting for them.’ And with that said, they saw how Governor Hogan alienated himself against Trump,” he said.
Cox has run a shoestring campaign compared to Moore, who raised $1.7 million compared to Cox’s $252,000 in the five weeks after the July 19 primary, according to the latest campaign finance reports, which were filed at the end of August. The next reports are due in two weeks.
His family has pitched in to work on the campaign, with one daughter serving as campaign manager during the primary. He only recently hired a veteran campaign spokesperson.
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The campaign provided a quick denunciation Oct. 10 after information started circulating about a planned “Unite the Right” event in Maryland. The gathering with Republican candidates had the same name as a white supremacist rally that turned deadly five years ago in Virginia.
“We will not be associated with anything that is reminiscent, accidental or otherwise, of the unspeakable tragedy that took place in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017,” Cox said in a statement. “Anything less is unacceptable. Dan Cox and his campaign remains committed to the empowerment, safety and freedom of all Marylanders.”
It was a forceful rejection for a candidate who has, at times, embraced conspiracy theories, such as his continued support for false claims that Trump only lost his reelection bid in 2020 because of widespread election fraud.
Cox recently lost an appeal in the state’s highest court in which he tried to keep county election boards from scanning any mail-in ballots that arrived before of Election Day. Cox has yet to say whether he will accept the results of his own race, and is aligning his campaign with groups that plan to press for their own audit of the results.
So, can Cox pull off a win and give Republicans a third consecutive term in Maryland’s top executive office?
“I wouldn’t bet my house on it,” said House Minority Leader Jason Buckel of Allegany County, who supported Schulz in the primary. “If he wins, that’s great for him. If he loses, that’s something we all accept as the nature of politics and we move on to getting the work done.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker, Emily Opilo and Sam Janesch contributed to this article.