Franchot will not debate Perez, Moore on a radio show; Baker’s approval is pending

Comptroller Peter VR Franchot, former US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and author Wes Moore led the pack in a recent poll of Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Photos by Danielle E. Gaines.

Comptroller Peter VR Franchot declined the opportunity to debate his main rivals in the Democratic gubernatorial primary later this week – a move that was immediately condemned by opposition campaigns.

Franchot, former US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore were all invited to appear on the WYPR radio show at noon on Friday. The trio have been the top-ranked contender for some time, consistently attracting more support than the other six nomination contestants.

Moore and Perez accepted program host Tom Hall’s invitation to participate in what he described as a free-wheeling discussion.

But the Franchot camp told Maryland Matters on Wednesday that it would not participate. The campaign said it opposed Hall’s decision to exclude candidates with lower voter turnout.

“We believe public forums should be open to all Democratic primary candidates,” the campaign said in a statement. “Every candidate has worked tirelessly over the past year and deserves a chance to speak with voters. This is especially true for taxpayer-backed outlets like WYPR, whose reputation as an open and unbiased resource for listeners is so essential.

For much of the campaign, Franchot avoided unscripted environments, preferring instead to deliver speeches or conduct one-on-one interviews.

Hall confirmed that he plans to continue with Moore and Perez. “My hope is to give voters another chance to hear what the candidates have to say, before they vote,” he said. “It certainly would have been better if we had had the three candidates who are literally tied statistically.”

Perez and Moore criticized Franchot’s refusal to appear alongside them.

“It is disturbing that Peter Franchot continues to find excuse after excuse to avoid this conversation. That’s not what leaders do,” Perez said in a statement. “I strongly encourage Controller Franchot to do the right thing and join in this important conversation.

“Peter Franchot was going to find every excuse he could to hide from Maryland voters,” said Moore’s campaign spokesman Brian Jones. “…(His) stagnant campaign has finally achieved what the vast majority of Democratic voters have experienced all year – his record is indefensible.”

The WYPR Forum took on added prominence on Tuesday when the Baltimore banner released a new poll. The survey reinforced the existing perception that — with former Prince George County Executive Rushern L. Baker III out of the running — the Democratic primary is essentially a three-way contest.

Franchot was the choice of 16% of voters polled, while Moore and Perez both got 14% support. The gap between the three is well within the poll’s 4.9% margin of error, making the race a statistical dead end.

The survey of 403 likely Democratic voters was conducted by Goucher College for Banner and WYPR. He was in the field between June 15 and June 19. Just over a third of voters (35%) remained undecided.

Franchot wasn’t alone in criticizing the station for limiting this week’s forum to favorites. Former US Education Secretary John King accused WYPR of making “an unacceptable, biased and short-sighted decision” not to extend an invitation to him.

“It should not be the role of state-funded media to choose candidates to present to voters based on unknown and arbitrary reasons – yet that is exactly what WYPR was trying to do with this selective invitation,” said King said in a statement.

Broadcasters routinely limit attendance at debates to top candidates, especially as campaigns draw closer to Election Day. Typically, they use public polls to winnow the field.

King drew 4% support in the Goucher poll, and former attorney general Doug Gansler won support from 5% of those polled.

Friday’s episode of Midday moves forward after a plan to air the top three contestants earlier this week fell through.

Noon airs at noon on WYPR (88.1 FM) in Baltimore, WYPF (88.1 FM) in Frederick and WYPO (106.9 FM) in Ocean City.

Early voting begins July 7. Mail-in ballots have already been sent out.

Moore relies on Baker backers

Moore was in Prince George’s County on Wednesday, accepting endorsements from nearly every county council member. Lawmakers praised Moore for presenting a vision that will benefit low- and middle-income residents.

“He is the only one who can speak to these issues that affect the people of Maryland every day, the people of Prince George’s County who have been left behind,” Council Member Rodney Streeter (D) said. “The little ones, the lost and the left behind.”

Wes Moore accepted several endorsements from Prince George’s County leaders on Wednesday. Left to right: Council Member Mel Franklin, Candidate Eve Shuman, Council Members Rodney Streeter, Johnathan Medlock, Todd Turner, Deni Taveras, Calvin Hawkins and Sydney Harrison. Absent from the photo: Danielle Glaros. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Attending the rally were council members Streeter, Mel Franklin, Dannielle Glaros, Sydney Harrison, Calvin Hawkins, Johnathan Medlock, Deni Taveras, Todd Turner and council hopeful Eve Shuman (all D). Most approved of Baker before his decision to withdraw from the contest.

In accepting the endorsements, Moore promised local leaders would have an ally in the State House if elected. “For me to do my job, that means I will act in partnership and in unity with each of you,” he said. “We know that to move forward does not mean having [a governor] who will wave their fingers at local elected officials and say “do better”.

Moore pledged to expand pre-kindergarten for low-income families, “prioritize” public transportation, and make Maryland an “innovation state.”

Baker’s approval pending

When he suspended his gubernatorial campaign on June 10, Baker pledged support for one of his former rivals.

“We’re going to sit down and analyze what makes sense,” he told Maryland Matters at the time. “But I don’t see a scenario where I don’t [endorse]. People want to know what you think.

Baker’s plans were turned upside down by his decision to participate in Maryland’s public fundraising campaign.

Because he accepted around $800,000 from the state, the former Prince George’s County executive runs the risk of having to repay taxpayers if he were to officially end his campaign and support a rival.

Jared DeMarinis, director of nominations and campaign finance for the state Board of Elections, said the conundrum Baker faced “was not anticipated” when the Legislature created the public fundraising program.

“I believe that would be something that the next General Assembly will definitely address, to come up with a carefully crafted response to enable participation – but not the spirit of play – in the program,” DeMarinis said in an interview.

Baker said he would still like to endorse, but he is awaiting clarification from the election commission on whether he can do so without having to formally withdraw from the contest.

“We’re hoping for something in writing this week that says ‘here’s what you’re allowed to do under the law,'” he said.

The delay frustrated campaigns hoping to clinch his endorsement. “They all called. They’re like, ‘You’re chaining us down,’” Baker said. “And I’m like ‘No, I’m not. “”

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