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The bridge collapse poses the first major challenge for Maryland Governor Wes Moore, a rising Democratic star

BALTIMORE – Six people were killed and an international port closed after a bridge collapsed in Baltimore, Maryland’s governor said. Wes Moore has been thrust into the national spotlight this week, leading the response to the catastrophe.

Moore, a political newcomer before launching his campaign for governor in 2022, is already identified as a rising star in the Democratic Party and joins a deep group of Democratic governors whose names have been mentioned as potential 2028 presidential candidates.

Moore’s allies say the qualities and experience that pushed him to run for governor are the same ones that could help propel him to national prominence through this crisis.

“I think leaders show who they are in times of crisis. Wes Moore has always been someone who tackles the problem,” Brian Adam Jones, who was a longtime advisor to Moore when he led the Robin Hood Foundation, told NBC News, highlighting Moore’s experience as a combat veteran and CEO of one of the largest anti-poverty organizations in New York City.

Jones echoed the sentiments of other Moore allies and Democratic strategists who argue that Moore is uniquely positioned to address a complex crisis involving a ship that hit a bridge, a critical piece of infrastructure of Baltimore, gridlocked traffic in the region and shut down the port. an international port and led to the deaths of six construction workers.

Just after 1 a.m. Tuesday, the freighter Dali crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. At 6 a.m., the governor had declared a state of emergency. Since then, Moore has been all over Baltimore, including the site of the downed bridge, speaking to the victims’ families and observing a moment of silence during the Baltimore Orioles’ home opener on Thursday.

“This will be a long process. It is a very complicated process. But people have to be confident that we can get this done and they can bet on that,” Moore said at a news conference Thursday evening.

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It’s a big moment for a new governor in a city that often clashed with his predecessor, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is now running for Senate.

“Government. Hogan is someone who really, almost always spoke of Baltimore with an incredible amount of disdain,” Jones said, adding, “And that was something that as a Baltimorean was very important to Governor Moore when he was a candidate.”

Yet a national Democratic strategist told NBC News, “No one ever wants to be a crisis governor. But it’s part of the job.”

The quarterback added that Moore is “focused on Maryland right now. His military experience, unique biography and leadership qualities distinguish him. It’s going to take a very long time [to rebuild] and that won’t happen overnight. As someone with military experience and service, that is central to his leadership in Maryland, as is bringing people together and staying focused.”

A first trial period

Moore’s handling of this crisis will prove to be a crucial test of his leadership and his role as a rising star in the party, given the skepticism he faced during a tense Democratic primary campaign.

Moore entered the race with little name recognition but left early, boosted by messages of support from figures at home and abroad, including Oprah Winfrey. He surpassed former U.S. Secretary of Education John King, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and former Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Democratic primary debate for candidates for Maryland governor (Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images file)

Democratic primary debate for Maryland gubernatorial candidates (Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images file)

But midway through the primaries, Moore’s campaign stalled amid accusations that Moore misrepresented his upbringing in a 2010 memoir, “The Other Wes Moore.” Moore’s campaign filed complaints with the state Board of Elections, alleging foul play by a group that distributed a memo raising questions about his past and whether Moore had really grown up in Baltimore.

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Jared Leopold, a veteran Democratic strategist and former staffer at the Democratic Governors Association, told NBC News that Moore proved his political chops during that gubernatorial election, saying Moore “showed his charisma and his leadership, and also showed he could handle tough issues could be dealt with. .”

“So far I think he’s doing well,” Leopold added. “He does well on the leadership test.”

MSNBC co-host Michael Steele, a Republican who served as Maryland’s lieutenant governor from 2003 to 2007 and later became chairman of the Republican National Committee, added that in addition to questions about his ties to Maryland during the campaign, “I think there were a lot of questions about someone who had never held an elective position, running a $40 billion company and trying to manage it all.”

“But you know, he’s apparently starting to gain a foothold, and I think a lot of people in Annapolis and across the state are still watching and nodding their heads in approval,” he added.

Representatives of Moore’s administration declined to comment for this story, pointing instead to Moore’s comments Thursday about the path to rebuilding the bridge.

Eyes on 2028

Democratic strategists and Moore’s allies insist that despite a potentially bright political future, the governor is not using this moment to advance any political ambition.

“I know that’s not even on his radar right now as he thinks about this crisis,” Jones said.

Steele added, “I can just tell you that when you’re in that position, only the crudest… kind of politician is going to sit there and think about how they can take a tragedy like this and burnish their reputation.” for higher office. That’s something I never picked up on from Governor Moore.”

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Just days before the bridge collapsed, Moore held a roundtable with reporters in Washington after speaking at an education conference. He was asked if he was tired of getting so many questions about his political future just months into his term as governor.

“I don’t, I don’t get tired of it because I don’t think about it,” he said.

Still, in two years Moore will have the opportunity to run for a second term if he chooses, and past political campaigns have shown that successfully navigating conflict can help you in future political endeavors.

Andy Beshear (Timothy D. Easley/AP)Andy Beshear (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

Andy Beshear (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

Following Democratic Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s reelection victory in one of the most competitive gubernatorial campaigns of 2023, many identified him as his state’s “commander in chief” and attributed Beshear’s victory in part to guiding his state. the Covid-19 pandemic and a series of devastating natural disasters during his first term.

“I think people understood that regardless of their politics and other issues, they fundamentally knew that [Beshear] He really cared about them, and his values ​​drove him to help, right?” a Democratic strategist familiar with governors’ races told NBC News.

“We’ve seen everywhere that voters really reward that when they think you’re on their side,” the strategist added.

All eyes are now on Maryland and Moore as he and other local, state and national leaders begin the process of healing a community and rebuilding critical infrastructure.

‘Don’t bet against Wes Moore. Ever,” Jones said, adding, “Look at his work and look at what he does. It goes without saying.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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