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Petitioners were severely outspent on same-sex marriage and the Dream Act last year as prominent Democrats and activist groups mounting multi-million-dollar campaigns, while their effort to overturn the state’s new congressional map never caught on with voters.

“Last time we were hoping other people would step in and run the campaign,” he said. “It happened for marriage but it didn’t happen for the other two questions.”

Mr. Parrott also said that even a successful effort to keep the death penalty might not have much effect, as the assembly passed a bill in 2009 to raises the burden of proof in capital cases to a level that many experts have called an effective ban on executions.

The law only allowed prosecutors to seek the death penalty in cases where there is biological or DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or conclusive video evidence. Maryland has not executed an inmate since 2005.

Mr. Parrott said Republicans are more likely to pick their spots in the future and select battles that they think they can win. GOP lawmakers have said they plan to mount a referendum effort on Mr. O'Malley’s gun-control bill, if it passes.

Any issues petitioned to the ballot this year would be decided in a 2014 referendum on the same day that all statewide offices will be up for election.