Maryland’s gubernatorial race has been notably negative this year, and when Republican Larry Hogan and Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown met for a second debate Monday, the gloves were off and both Hogan and Brown were swinging.
The two attacked each other’s plans, their credibility, and their records.
Hogan blamed Brown for the state’s lackluster economic performance, saying Maryland’s, “economy’s a mess and everyone seems to know it except you.”
Brown criticized Hogan’s plan to cut taxes by reducing spending, “Larry, your numbers don’t add up,” Brown said. “You’re first and only specific plan you laid out on the campaign and the numbers don’t add up.”
The two contenders faced tough questions from moderators but tried to turn weaknesses into strengths. When Brown was asked about his role as head of Maryland’s healthcare exchange, which included an expensive website that failed on day one, he emphasized enrollment that happened despite the IT troubles and elided questions about the $40 million to $50 million price tag to replace the balky website.
“We rolled up our sleeves and got it done. It wasn’t pretty. It was difficult work. And we enrolled 411,000 Marylanders,” Brown said.
Hogan was asked about a story in the Washington Post that reported he told gun rights advocates he’d work to weaken enforcement of a controversial gun law the state passed last year. His response: The bill wasn’t strong enough. “I never opposed limiting assault weapons. I never opposed background checks. The only problem I had with SB 281 is that it did not go far enough,” Hogan said.
“Much like the campaign rhetoric that we’ve seen in the campaign ads, this is the first time that we’ve seen them go after each other a little bit,” says Mileah Kromer, a political scientist at Goucher College. But despite the more cantankerous tone of the debate, she says that the candidates tread little new ground. “This debate, unfortunately, offered more of the same.”
Melissa Deckman, a Washington College political science professor, says Anthony Brown probably scored points with voters by emphasizing his education and environmental credentials. But she says Larry Hogan continued plowing ahead with his laser-focused message about the economy -- message she says is resonating with voters.
“At the end of the day, the thing that seems most salient to voters is taxes, and that message of taxes, taxes, taxes is still very powerful,” Deckman says. “It’s still shaping the debate.”
With early voting just nine days away, recent polling shows a tightening race. A Washington Post poll shows Brown leading Hogan 47 to 38 percent. A Baltimore Sun poll this weekend showed a tighter race: 49 percent Brown, 42 percent Hogan. But a Goucher poll shows some 45 percent of Marylanders say that don’t yet have an opinion.
“I think Brown’s got to be a bit nervous at this point because this should be a cake walk and it’s not,” Deckman said. “And, I think, it’s a midterm election where the electorate tends to be more white, tends to be more middle class, more male. And those are things that advantage Hogan as opposed to Anthony Brown.”
The Baltimore Sun poll also showed Hogan’s voters to be more steadfast in their support than Brown’s. But Brown still has a lead. He also has the state’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate at his back. And Goucher’s Mileah Kromer says he has the ability to deploy a bigger arsenal.
“Keep in mind that Anthony Brown has a lot more money in the bank,” Kromer said. “So when we think about turnout out the vote and we think about the last few weeks, he’s going to have the money to put boots on the ground and the money to put campaign ads on the airwaves.”
And on November Fourth, turnout is all that matters.