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Bridge collapse poses the first major challenge for Maryland Gov

After a bridge collapse in Baltimore killed six people and shut down an international port, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has stepped into the national spotlight this week, leading the response to the catastrophe.

Moore, a political newcomer before he launched his 2022 campaign for governor, has already been identified as a rising star in the Democratic Party, joining a deep bench of Democratic governors whose names have been floated as potential 2028 presidential contenders.

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

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

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Jones echoed the feelings of other Moore allies and Democratic strategists who argue that Moore is uniquely positioned to address a complex crisis, which features a vessel that struck a bridge, eliminated a critical piece of Baltimore infrastructure, tied up traffic across the region, shut down an international port and led to the deaths of six construction workers.

Just after 1 a.m. on Tuesday, the cargo ship Dali crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. By 6 a.m., the governor had declared a state of emergency. Since then, Moore has been all over Baltimore, between the site of the downed bridge, speaking to victims’ families and observing a moment of silence at the Baltimore Orioles’ opening day game on Thursday.

“This is going to be a long process. It’s a very complicated process. But people should rest assured we are going to get this done and they can bet on that,” Moore said at a press conference Thursday evening.

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

“Gov. Hogan is someone who really, almost always spoke about Baltimore with an incredible amount of disdain,” Jones said, adding: “And that was something that as a Baltimorean was really important for Gov. Moore when he was running.”

Still, one national Democratic strategist told NBC News, “Nobody ever wants to be a crisis governor. But it’s part of the job.”

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

A first-term test
How Moore faces 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 started in the race with little name recognition but took off early on, boosted by endorsements from figures in and out of the state, including Oprah Winfrey. He went on to outpace former U.S. Education Secretary John King, former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and former Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.

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