WALDORF, Md. — It is a warm fall day in southern Maryland, and outside the Charles County Public Library, people are waiting. Carter Elliott, the communications guri, takes calls and monitors his phone. Volunteers stand outside the library in anticipation.
A 45-foot-long passenger bus sits alongside.
Finally, the man they are waiting for arrives, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore.
Moore, dressed in a navy suit, white shirt and no tie, steps out of a white SUV. With him is Aruna Miller, a former Maryland delegate who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018. Miller is now Moore’s running mate as the candidate for lieutenant governor. She wears a Maryland flag scarf draped around her neck as she and Moore walk toward the entrance of the building.
It is now officially day five of the Wes Moore campaign bus tour.
Days out from Election Day and with a 2-to-1 lead in the polls over his rival, Republican Dan Cox, Moore is still campaigning hard. The idea, according to Moore, is to ensure Marylanders across the state know that the Moore/Miller campaign is not, as his signature phrase goes, “leaving anyone behind.”
So far, he and his bus have been to Frederick, Hagerstown and Baltimore and visited retirement homes, local businesses, a country club, and two historically Black universities. Later in the tour, he will have a rally at the University of Maryland in College Park and visit a museum and early voting sites.
But today, he is in Waldorf, an unincorporated community of about 78,000 in Charles County, 23 miles south of the nation’s Capital.
At the library, campaign signs line the entrance and kids run around with their newly-received Moore campaign gift bags. Moore and Miller speak with county residents like Asia Alleyne, owner of the social media marketing company AlleyneMedia, who made the drive over to the library for a chance to meet Moore.
“I’ve been following Wes Moore for over a year, and I know he’s been in the county before, but I didn’t really get the chance to have a conversation with him,” Alleyne said. “I figured now would be a good time for an introduction.”
After speeches and a question-and-answer session with residents, the Moore team quickly coordinates carpooling and shuffles everyone in cars to the next stop of the day, the Southwinds Active Adult Community.
The parking at Southwinds is tight, and the facility is less than a 10-minute drive from the library. So, for now, the bus will have to wait.
In truth, political experts say, Moore had created a nearly unassailable lead over his gubernatorial opponent long before he mounted his bus tour.
He had outraised Cox by 10-to-1. He has endorsements out the door, including former President Barack Obama, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. nearly every Democratic member of the Maryland General Assembly, the Maryland Sierra Club, the Maryland State Education Association, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
On Saturday, he will get a nod from Vice President Kamala Harris during the Maryland Democrats GOTV event at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County
But Moore says the bus is about more than gaining votes.
“This moment is about so much more than a campaign,” Moore said in his interview with Capital News Service. “This is how we’re going to govern… This is the joy, because we’re going to need everybody in for governance. So, this is very much how we’re setting up the standard now for what we are going to do when we get to Annapolis.”
At the community, Moore enters a dining room to the sight of residents cheering and clapping.
Moore notes in his speech at Southwinds that Maryland ranks as “the worst place to retire in America,” and tells residents he will work to make Maryland a better place for seniors.
“What I like about him is that he’s young, he has fresh ideas,” said Cheryl Jenkins, a five-year resident of Southwinds. “He has experienced different things in his life.”
“Whoever gets (elected), they have to have a little bit more concern for seniors. Everything has gone up except our Social Security. So, we need someone to focus on the seniors.”
As the crowds of residents eager to hug and speak with Moore press around him, his team notifies him it’s time for the next stop.
Back at the library, Moore and his team load up on the waiting bus.
Inside, R&B songs bump throughout the bus. There’s a cabinet stocked with essential campaigning snacks, like Pop-Tarts, gummy bears and nuts. Miller totes a fleece blanket she brought onboard in case the bus is cold today.
The campaign bus is true to what Moore and his staff refer to it as; it’s just a bus. There are no sleepers, no kitchen or flat-screen TVs. The most unique feature among the rows of fabric and leather seats is a small table where Moore sits chatting with Miller across the aisle.
“We say what we are going to do in our administration is we are going to build a bigger table,” Moore said. “We are gonna have more seats around the table. So, the priority wasn’t sleepers; the priority was seats. I think this is very symbolic of the kind of administration that we are going to have.”
Moore’s staff and traveling politicians, Sen. Arthur Ellis, D-Charles, and Del. Edith Patterson, D-Charles, fill the seats. Connor Lounsbury, senior advisor for Moore, notes the bus occupants change every trip, but are typically Moore and Miller along with elected officials who are at events.
The bus rolls along city streets toward perhaps the most anticipated stop of the day. It’s time for a visit toRed Tails Ocean Grille, a local Black-owned restaurant in Charles County where Moore and his wife, Dawn, have previously dined.
“I think one of the coolest things about the experience is that one of the things we try to do everywhere we go is we’re gonna find out what that area is known for, for their food,” Moore said as the bus neared the location. “We want to go support small restaurants.”
The Red Tails is known for its seafood and waffle combinations. The menu features fried lobster tail, fried shrimp, fried chicken tenders and fried catfish as options to stack on top of a Belgian waffle.
Moore has cooked up a special request even before the bus arrives. He is hopeful the chef will take him up on his offer to create a “crab and waffles” dish, and name it after the pending Moore administration.
“I’m going to ask them to make it for me today,” he said. “And if it’s good, I’m going to ask him to make it a part of the regular menu, and I want them to name it after us. So, we’ll see how it tastes.”
At the red brick restaurant, Moore and Miller squeeze into a packed dining room where Moore signs are displayed on the front windows, and a microphone is set up at the center of the restaurant for the pair to speak.
Unfortunately, the creation of the crab and waffles dish is shelved for another day, because the team has run out of time. Moore and Miller are whisked away to head over to the College of Southern Maryland, where the pair will speak to students and faculty.
As the bus pulls out of the parking lot, diners are left to watch as Moore’s and Miller’s smiles plastered across the side disappear out of sight and the tour continues on to the rest of the day’s events.