- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The race for governor in deep-blue Maryland is much closer than expected, with analysts saying Democrat Anthony Brown is vulnerable because he tiptoed around the big issues and failed to make an argument for his election other than he’s next in line.

Mr. Brown, the two-term lieutenant governor, leads in polls but not by the double-digit spread he should enjoy in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. His opponent, Republican businessman Larry Hogan, is suddenly showing momentum as voters give him a second look less than four weeks before the election.

“If Anthony Brown loses this election, he’s going to lose it because he didn’t give his followers any reason to believe he is anything but a nice guy who really wasn’t up to the job,” said Towson University professor Richard E. Vatz, who analyzes political rhetoric and Maryland political campaigns.

The perceived lack of enthusiasm for Mr. Brown has prompted comparison to former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s failed run for governor in 2002. Her poor campaigning was blamed in part for Robert L. Ehrlich’s success in becoming the state’s first Republican governor since Spiro T. Agnew left office in 1969.

Mr. Vatz faulted the Brown campaign for avoiding the major issues in the state, including unpopular tax increases, stymied economic growth, high unemployment and the botched rollout of the state’s health care insurance exchange that the lieutenant governor was responsible for overseeing.

Instead, the Brown campaign has aired a series of TV ads that accuse Mr. Hogan of being anti-woman and wanting to put assault rifles in the hands of criminals.

Brown’s support is low-intensity and unstable,” said Mr. Vatz. “He brings up minuscule issues and false issues and makes attacks on Hogan that are untrue. That makes people who are slightly leaning Democratic want to consider saying, ‘You know, we’re not doing so well. Why not take a chance on the man who is the Republican nominee?’”

Mr. Brown has offered few proposals that differentiate himself from the policies of his mentor, Gov. Martin O'Malley. Mr. Brown’s platform includes universal pre-kindergarten and a task force to perform a comprehensive efficiency review of state government spending.

A Washington Post poll last week showed Mr. Brown with a 9-point lead over Mr. Hogan, 47 percent to 38 percent.

Another poll last week, by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies Inc., showed the race closer, with Mr. Brown leading Mr. Hogan 47 percent to 43 percent.

Mr. Brown’s supporters cast doubt on the Gonzales poll because it was commissioned by Maryland, My Maryland PAC, an outside group that supports Mr. Hogan.

If elected, Mr. Brown will be the state’s first black governor. Every poll shows that he continues to garner enthusiastic support from black voters, who make up about 28 percent of the electorate in Maryland.

The Brown campaign refused to answer questions about the narrowing race.

His supporters insist that there is no lack of enthusiasm for their candidate.

“They are excited about Brown and concerned about Hogan,” said Sue Esty, legislative and political director for the state council of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Ms. Esty said the union was organizing a robust campaign to promote Mr. Brown and mobilize voters on Election Day, much the same way it worked to twice elect Mr. O'Malley.

“We’re taking the race very seriously and getting very active in it,” she said. “We are concerned before every election. We can’t afford to rest because the person who gets elected governor has a huge impact on the daily work lives of thousands of state employees.”

When the two candidates met this week in their first debate, Mr. Hogan pressed Mr. Brown on taxes and the economy. The Republican said these issues were the reasons he entered the race.

“Taxpayers in Maryland are suffering,” Mr. Hogan said. “They just can’t take it anymore, and that’s exactly why I’m running.”

Mr. Brown responded that the tax hikes were needed for critical investments in education and infrastructure that were neglected during the Ehrlich administration, in which Mr. Hogan served as the Cabinet secretary responsible for making appointments to state jobs.

“There will be no new taxes in the Brown-Ulman administration,” Mr. Brown said.

“The last time you said, ‘There’s not going to be any taxes, we don’t foresee any taxes in the future,’ was in the last election when you and Martin O'Malley said the exact same thing. Then you raised 40 taxes in a row,” Mr. Hogan said.

Larry, you and I stand in completely two different places,” Mr. Brown said.

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