Gov.-elect Wes Moore (D) with President Biden at a get-out-the-vote rally in Bowie last November. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines. Courtesy of Maryland Matters.
Gov.-elect Wes Moore (D) takes office Wednesday with the weight of history and the burden of high expectations on his broad shoulders. He also begins Day One of his four-year term as a bonafide national superstar, a rarity for a political newcomer — and a weight, perhaps, of a different kind.
Hours before Moore was set to be sworn in as Maryland’s 63rd governor, Bloomberg News posted an article touting him as a future presidential contender. It mentioned him in the same breath as Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“As Democrats wring their hands about who might run — and win — once Joe Biden leaves office, Maryland Governor-elect Wes Moore emerges as if he were created in a political lab: a person of color who rose from poverty and served in combat,” Bloomberg wrote. “A Rhodes scholar and best-selling author on Oprah Winfrey’s radar. And through his work on Wall Street and the Robin Hood Foundation, he boasts a network of celebrity and hedge fund contacts.”
How does a 44-year-old first-time officeholder measure up to such a build-up? How will he learn the nuances and complexities of a high-pressure job under the constant glare of the national political media, camped out just 30 miles away from Annapolis in Washington, D.C.? How does he balance the 24/7 demands of being governor with his party’s never-ending search for fresh and exciting leaders? And how does he navigate as the state’s first Black governor — and only the third elected in U.S. history — in such toxic, perilous political times?
(Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis won the governor’s race in 2018 against Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum, a Black man. Had Gillum won, he would have been Florida’s first Black governor. Meanwhile, DeSantis, a Republican, has won a second term as governor and is considered a presidential contender for 2024, though he has not made any formal announcements.)
Admirers say that Moore is uniquely equipped for the challenges ahead and will face them with equanimity and determination, and that he learned long ago to thrive at high levels even under intense scrutiny. All of Moore’s previous professional stops, they say — in business, in the military, in the nonprofit world and as a best-selling author — prepared him for this moment.
Veterans of Moore’s campaign say that as a candidate, and in the weeks since, Moore was always zeroed in on the tasks at hand. When he was campaigning in the crowded and hard-fought Democratic primary, he never spoke openly about the general election, and he won narrowly. When he competed in the general election, which had all the makings of a blow-out from the beginning, he never took anything for granted. After Election Day, Moore has focused on the transition and assembling an innovative, energetic and diverse team, without overstepping boundaries while Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was still in charge. And he has never once, associates said, talked about any further political ambitions.
Alexandra Hughes, the former chief of staff to House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) and the late House Speaker Michael Busch (D), said Moore is doing everything he can to prepare to govern, but said political distractions are inevitable, especially for a celebrated and history-making new chief executive.
“From what I’ve seen, I think that the governor-elect has spent a lot of time over the last five or six months learning about the operations of state government. That shows his commitment to this job,” said Hughes, the founder of Blended Public Affairs, an Annapolis firm. “But it’s not as if other people aren’t going to be pressuring him to do something else. I think people have wanted to make him a caricature or a symbol. And he has leaned away from wanting to do that. There’s definitely going to be some level of balance. People are going to have really high expectations. Those expectations have to be balanced with the pressures and realities of governing.”
“That’s what makes a great political leader,” Benenson said.
Florida Phoenix editor Diane Rado contributed to this report.
This story was published earlier by Maryland Matters, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.
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