An Oct. 21 Metro article and biographical box incorrectly said that Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has five sons. He has four sons and a daughter. (Published 10/22/2005)

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan yesterday announced his candidacy for governor, vowing to focus his campaign on education and embracing an uphill bid to become the first governor elected from Maryland's most populous county.

Standing in front of his modest childhood home in Rockville, Duncan, 49, highlighted his efforts to improve the county's schools, expand its economy and revitalize neighborhoods -- and pledged to take such initiatives statewide.

"Everyone wants an end to the political gamesmanship, partisanship and uncontrolled egos we've suffered through over the past few years. They want their leaders to think bigger for Maryland," he said.

Duncan quickly made clear that he would cede no ground to his rival in next year's Democratic primary: Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who led in the polls even before declaring his candidacy last month. Duncan not only directed several barbs at the popular mayor in his remarks, but he announced key endorsements from prominent Democrats at his campaign stops yesterday.

State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who has often allied himself with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), gushed over Duncan at a Baltimore event, as did former mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Rep. Albert R. Wynn, who represents much of Prince George's County, stood beside the candidate in Rockville. And Rep. Chris Van Hollen issued a statement endorsing his fellow Montgomery Democrat.

Four years ago, Duncan was eager to run for governor, but then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) muscled him out of the race, with an early show of fundraising prowess and support from the Democratic establishment.

Next year's nominee will probably face Ehrlich, who defeated Townsend in 2002 to become the state's first GOP governor in a generation, and test the Democrats' hold on power in a state they long dominated.

In Rockville, Duncan was surrounded by his wife and three of his five sons, as well as half of an extended family that includes 12 brothers and sisters and 38 nieces and nephews.

As Van Halen's 1990s hit "Right Now" blared throughout the neighborhood behind Twinbrook Shopping Center, Duncan took the stage and quickly tried to establish himself as a dogged campaigner.

"Maryland, it's time to think bigger, for our state and our people," Duncan said, referring to his "think bigger" campaign theme.

The phrase is meant to symbolize not only his stocky build, but also his belief that neither O'Malley nor Ehrlich can match his record or leadership skills.

Duncan criticized Ehrlich for his focus on slot machine gambling "and a public policy that is better described as public relations." But much of his speech appeared to be directed at O'Malley. Although he never mentioned O'Malley by name, Duncan seemed to mock the mayor on a few occasions.

At one point, he appeared to needle O'Malley for Baltimore's "Believe" campaign, an effort to fight crime and boost morale that includes "Believe" billboards, bumper stickers and buttons.

"You have to do more than just believe things will turn out okay," Duncan said. The line drew applause at his Baltimore gathering but pointed to a challenge the Montgomery executive will face: As he tries to make inroads in the Baltimore region, where about one-third of registered Democrats live, Duncan must distinguish himself from O'Malley without being seen as criticizing a city whose residents are fiercely protective of it.

Yesterday, Duncan addressed the issue head on. "Those who suggest that discussing the problem is a disservice to Baltimore are the ones selling short the city, selling short the people who live there," he said.

Jonathan Epstein, O'Malley's campaign manager, said Duncan was starting to sound desperate.

"Doug Duncan is running behind in his campaign for governor, and today he used his announcement speech to continue his misleading, negative attacks," Epstein said. "That is not thinking big, it's just a big disappointment to Maryland's common-sense voters."

Epstein said Duncan's remarks about the Believe campaign "show a fundamental lack of understanding for what this city has faced and tackled." Epstein said Baltimore student test scores have increased since O'Malley was elected mayor in 1999, and many neighborhoods are being revitalized, as evidenced by quickly rising property values.

But it was clear from his announcement speech that Duncan thinks he has an advantage on education and economic growth issues.

Duncan said, if elected governor, he would make public education his top priority. He outlined a vision that includes additional state funding, more state scholarships and greater parental involvement in schools.

He also spoke of his success in revitalizing Silver Spring and creating a biotechnology industry along the Interstate 270 corridor. He said that as governor he would use those successes as models for building public-private partnerships statewide.

After his speech in Rockville, Duncan boarded a 38-foot recreational vehicle to repeat his announcement in Hyattsville, Baltimore and Annapolis.

In Baltimore, Duncan brought together Schmoke and Schaefer in a small church gymnasium in Druid Hill, a historic neighborhood on the city's west side that was a cradle to the civil rights movement in Maryland.

Starting today, Duncan will take the RV on a five-day campaign swing through all 23 Maryland counties.

In recent weeks, some Democratic leaders have discounted Duncan's candidacy and speculated that he should step aside to give O'Malley a clear shot against Ehrlich.

Duncan, while acknowledging his underdog status, said yesterday he's in the race to stay.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) kisses his wife, Barbara, after announcing his candidacy for Maryland governor. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) embraces supporter Susan Madden of Silver Spring after announcing his campaign for governor.