Franchot Won’t Argue About Perez, Moore On Radio Show; Baker Endorsement has been put on hold

Comptroller Peter VR Franchot has turned down the chance to debate his main rivals in the Democratic gubernatorial primaries later this week — a decision that was immediately condemned by opposition campaigns.

Auditor Peter VR Franchot, former US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and author Wes Moore led the field in a recent poll of Democratic governor candidates. (Courtesy of Maryland Matters/Danielle E. Gaines)

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Comptroller Peter VR Franchot has turned down the chance to debate his main rivals in the Democratic gubernatorial primaries later this week — a decision that was immediately condemned by opposition campaigns.

Franchot, former US Labor Secretary Tom Perez and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore have all been invited to appear on Friday’s WYPR Radio program Midday. The trio has been the top-performing candidates for quite some time, consistently drawing more support than the six others seeking the nomination.

Moore and Perez have accepted program host Tom Hall’s invitation to participate in what he has billed as a freewheeling discussion.

But the Franchot camp told Maryland Matters on Wednesday that he will not participate. The campaign said it objected to Hall’s decision to exclude candidates with lower polls.

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

For much of the campaign, Franchot avoided scripted environments, rather instead to give speeches or have one-on-one conversations.

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 would certainly have been better if we had all three candidates who are literally statistically equal.”

Perez and Moore rejected Franchot’s refusal to appear next to them.

“It is disturbing that Peter Franchot keeps looking for excuses 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 participate in this important conversation.”

“Peter Franchot would find any excuse to hide from voters in Maryland,” Moore’s campaign spokesman Brian Jones said. “…(His) stagnant campaign has finally realized what the vast majority of Democratic voters have known all year — his record is indefensible.”

The WYPR forum took on added significance on Tuesday when the Baltimore Banner released a new poll. The investigation reinforced the existing perception that — with former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III out of the race — the Democratic primary is essentially a three-man race.

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

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

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

“It should not be the role of the government-funded media to pick and choose candidates to present to voters based on unknown and arbitrary reasons — but that’s exactly what WYPR was trying to do with this selective invitation,” it said. King in a statement.

Broadcasters routinely restrict participation in debates to the top candidates, especially as campaigns get closer to Election Day. Usually they use public polls to winnow the field.

King received 4% support in the Goucher Poll, and former Attorney General Doug Gansler received support from 5% of those polled.

The Friday episode of Midday continues after a plan to air the top three candidates earlier this week backfired.

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

The early voting starts on July 7. The ballots have already gone out.

Moore gets support from Baker donors

Moore was in Prince George’s County on Wednesday, accepting the approval of nearly every county council member. Lawmakers praised Moore for outlining a vision that will benefit lower- and middle-income residents.

Wes Moore accepted several approvals from Prince George’s County leaders on Wednesday. From left: Councilor Mel Franklin, candidate Eve Shuman, Councilors Rodney Streeter, Johnathan Medlock, Todd Turner, Deni Taveras, Calvin Hawkins and Sydney Harrison. Not pictured: Dannielle Glaros. (Courtesy of Maryland Matters/Bruce DePuyt)

“He’s the only one who will be able to talk about the issues that affect everyday Marylanders, the people of Prince George’s County who have been left behind,” said Councilman Rodney Streeter (D). “The least, the lost and the excluded.”

The meeting was attended by Councilors Streeter, Mel Franklin, Dannielle Glaros, Sydney Harrison, Calvin Hawkins, Johnathan Medlock, Deni Taveras, Todd Turner and hopeful Eve Shuman (all D) from the Council. Most endorsed Baker prior to his decision to withdraw from the competition.

In accepting the approvals, Moore promised that local leaders would have an ally in the State House if elected. “To be able to do my job it means I will move in partnership and unity with each of you,” he said. “We know that – to move forward – it does not mean that we [a governor] waving their fingers at local elected officials and saying ‘do better’.”

Moore pledged to expand pre-kindergarten for lower-income families, “prioritise” public transportation, and make Maryland a “state of innovation.”

Baker’s approval pending

When he suspended his governorship campaign on June 10, Baker pledged to back one of his former rivals.

“We’ll sit back 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 have been turned upside down by his decision to participate in Maryland’s public funding campaign.

Because he accepted about $800,000 from the state, former Prince George’s county risks paying taxpayers back if he formally ends his campaign and backs a rival.

Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the state election council, said the conundrum Baker faces “wasn’t anticipated” when the legislature drafted the public funding program.

“I believe this would be something that the next General Assembly will definitely address, to come up with a carefully crafted response to allow for participation — but not gaming ability — in the program,” DeMarinis said in an interview.

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

“We’re hoping this week for something in writing that says, ‘This is what the law says you can do,'” he said.

The delay has frustrated campaigns in hopes of getting his approval. “They all called. They say, ‘You’re leading us on,’ said Baker. “And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not.'”

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