(CNN) — Maryland Republicans have chosen state legislator Dan Cox, an election denier who has taken a number of hard-line conservative positions, as their candidate for what will be one of the toughest governorships for the party to fill in recent years. November midterm elections, CNN projected.

Election officials had begun what could be a week-long ballot-counting process Tuesday night. County officials were barred from starting to process the record number of mail-in ballots for a primary election until in-person voting concluded.

Cox won the GOP race to replace term-limited GOP Governor Larry Hogan, a result that showed the willingness of GOP voters to scrap what had been a winning ticket in the deep blue state after Hogan angered his own party with its criticism of Trump and his public safety measures in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

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It is not yet clear which Democrat Cox will face; author Wes Moore and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez were the top vote-getters as ballots were counted Tuesday night.

The primary was a power struggle between former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Cox, and Hogan, who endorsed his former commerce secretary, Kelly Schulz.

Hogan winning two terms in Maryland was a feat: Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state, two to one; the state has not endorsed a GOP presidential candidate since 1988. But Hogan is seen as one of the GOP’s more moderate figures.

Cox has stoked fears about voter fraud. He said in December 2020 on Facebook that Trump should take over the voting machines. He chartered three buses for Trump’s January 6, 2021, rally in Washington. And he tweeted in the midst of the insurrection: “Pence he is a traitor.”

Too a threatened with a lawsuit over mail-in ballots.

Maryland gubernatorial race will be tight

Democrats believe Cox makes a much easier general election than Schultz would have been. The Democratic Governors Association spent more than a million dollars on television ads highlighting Trump’s endorsement and Cox’s more conservative positions, a tactic designed to boost Cox’s Republican support but diminish his standing among moderates in the face of November general election.

Those ads highlighted his opposition to gun restrictions and abortion rights and his endorsement of Trump. One calls Cox “too close to Trump, too conservative for Maryland.”

At a news conference with Hogan last month, Schultz said Democrats are trying to “spend a million now and save $5 million by not having to face me in the general election.”

The main contest on the Maryland primary ballot Tuesday was the gubernatorial race. Hogan, who is among the more moderate figures in his party and has frequently criticized Trump, cannot seek re-election because of his term limits.

His departure has turned the primary into the gubernatorial race, one taking place in a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by roughly two to one, but where the GOP has held the governorship for 12 of the last 20 years, in a window into the biggest battles unfolding in both parties on the national stage.

Democrats saw an open matchup with 10 candidates: a field that included Perez; to Moore, endorsed by Oprah Winfrey; State Comptroller Peter Franchot, former US Education Secretary John King, as well as Doug Gansler, the former Maryland attorney general and failed 2014 gubernatorial candidate.

The primary in the gubernatorial race is the most closely watched contest on Tuesday’s list in Maryland, where the election was delayed three weeks due to litigation over the state’s legislative maps.

Election results could take days or even weeks to finalize. According to the Maryland Board of Elections, more than 508,000 people applied for mail-in ballots, breaking previous records for the primary. Counties can’t start counting those ballots until Thursday, and election officials say some counties could still count mail-in ballots in the first week of August.

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Governor’s Primary in Maryland

Several gubernatorial candidates would make history in a state that has elected only white men in its leadership.

Pérez, former president of the DNC, emphasized his national experience as well as his local roots. He is a former Montgomery County Councilman who was Maryland’s Secretary of Labor before joining former President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and, later, Obama’s US Secretary of Labor.

An ad for Pérez used Obama’s earlier comments about Pérez, with the former president calling him “tireless” and “wickedly smart”.

Moore, meanwhile, aired an ad featuring the voice of Oprah Winfrey, in which the reality TV star calls Moore a friend and reviews her resume. Winfrey calls Moore “the kind of transformative leader these times demand.”

On a hot election day in Maryland, voters showed up at their polling places. Portia Thompson, who said she has been voting since 1974, voted for Perez at the Colmar Manor City Hall and Community Center.

“I think he would represent everybody. Black, Latino, everybody. He also worked in President Obama’s administration, so I thought he had the experience,” Thompson said of Perez.

Other primary races in Maryland heading into the midterms

The outcome of another major race was also clear Tuesday night: Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen easily fended off a Democratic primary challenge on Tuesday, according to a CNN projection.

Van Hollen, who suffered a minor stroke in May, defeated a primary challenge from Michelle Smith, a Freedom of Information Act policy analyst at the US Agency for International Development. Ten Republicans are vying to face the winner of that primary, but Van Hollen is the heavy favorite to win a second term.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who is the No. 2 member of the House, also won his primary, CNN projected.

CNN projected that Rep. Anthony Brown will win the Democratic primary in the race for Maryland’s attorney general.

Brown, the lieutenant governor supported by former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley who is leaving his seat in the US House of Representatives after three terms, defeated O’Malley’s wife, Katie Curran O’Malley, a former court judge district of the city of Baltimore.

The primary election in the attorney general race is effectively the general election in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to the office in more than 100 years. (A Republican, Edward Rollins, was appointed to the position in 1952.)

Brown, a Harvard-educated former military attorney, would become the first black person to serve as Maryland’s attorney general. He was endorsed by VoteVets, which supports Democratic candidates with military experience. The group ran television ads criticizing O’Malley for his accusation that Brown “doesn’t have the right experience for this job.”

One of Maryland’s eight congressional seats is open this fall: The heavily Democratic 4th District seat currently held by Brown pits former Rep. Donna Edwards against former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey in the Democratic primaries.

Edwards has high-profile supporters, including Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Ivey is bolstered by ads attacking Edwards from the super PAC affiliated with the US-Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Thompson said he decided to vote for Glenn Ivey in the District 4 race because he believes he is a “great gentleman.”

“I don’t really have a negative opinion of Donna Edwards, but I like Glenn Ivey and his family. I like his wife. She comes and sits on your porch and talks to you,” he said.

Marcela Orellano, 38, was at the East County Community Recreation Center in Silver Spring at 9:30 a.m. because she is “terrified about the presidential election.” Although she said there is no specific candidate she is very excited about in the Maryland primary, she wants to see change and she is concerned about gun laws, women’s rights and immigration policies.

“I want to make sure I make a difference at least at the state level. I’m looking for Democrats to fight for the things that are important to me,” Orellano said.

Sharda Ramdat, a 46-year-old mother, said gun violence and abortion rights are her top priorities.

“I’m worried about my kids every day, and I feel like there’s nowhere where you can have a moment of your own space. That’s a big deal. I really want change, especially with gun laws,” she said.

Ramdat said she was excited for Moore and believes he is the best fit because “he had a tough life growing up” and “would understand where the middle class and poor people come from.”

Robin Jones, 68, said that affordable housing is one of her top priorities and that she is more focused on local issues affecting her community.

“I started working at the phone company at 17 and could afford an apartment for $125 a week. Now an apartment costs the same as a mortgage, and people don’t have a place to live,” Jones said.

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