Maryland gubernatorial candidates Republican Larry Hogan and Democrat Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown debate at NewsChannel 8 in Arlington on Monday. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Democrat Anthony G. Brown and Republican Larry Hogan on Monday sharply questioned each other’s credibility on economic issues and managing state spending, part of a gubernatorial debate that also included attacks on gun laws, funding for pre-kindergarten and Maryland’s troubled health insurance exchange.

Hogan, an Anne Arundel County businessman, contended that Brown, the state’s lieutenant governor, had undergone an election-year conversion in his advocacy for tax cuts for the middle class and efforts to improve the state’s climate for small businesses.

“He’s been killing small and entrepreneurial businesses for the last eight years,” Hogan, who has campaigned almost exclusively on economic issues, said of Brown during the debate. Turning directly to Brown, he added: “The economy’s a mess, and everyone in Maryland seems to know it but you.”

Brown countered that Hogan’s promise to cut taxes is dependent on a cost-saving plan in which the numbers “just don’t add up.”

The Democrat also tried to cast Hogan as more conservative than most Marylanders on social issues, and questioned why Hogan has vowed not to seek changes in several Maryland laws that he opposed when they were debated. Hogan has said he does not plan to press the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, to overturn same-sex marriage or a broad gun-control law.

“What Maryland voters need is a governor who has the courage of their convictions,” Brown said. “This is what voters don’t like about politicians.”

The hour-long debate, co-hosted by NewsChannel 8, The Washington Post and WTOP (103.5 FM), was the second between Brown and Hogan. They are scheduled to meet for a final televised debate on Saturday in Baltimore. Their running mates — Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) and former state and federal official Boyd Rutherford (R) — will debate on Thursday.

A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll last week showed Brown leading Hogan among likely voters by nine percentage points.

Hogan on Monday repeatedly hammered Brown on taxes and job creation — issues of considerable concern to many voters. Brown, meanwhile, sought to undermine Hogan with detailed attacks on social issues — areas in which Brown’s positions more closely reflect the views of the Democratic and independent voters whose support would be crucial for a Hogan victory. At various points, Brown rattled off the differences between the men on raising the minimum wage, expanding pre-K education and restricting gun availability.

The candidates also sparred over Brown’s role in Maryland’s botched rollout of its online health insurance exchange. The issue was not mentioned when the men debated in Baltimore last week, prompting Hogan to complain about the moderators.

“He failed miserably,” Hogan said of Brown. “Quite frankly, I don’t think he showed us that he earned a promotion.”

Brown acknowledged that the exchange had “technical difficulties” and said he, like everyone involved in the project, bore some responsibility. But he emphasized that tens of thousands of Marylanders now have health insurance as a result of the state’s efforts.

While Hogan worked to tie Brown to tax increases and other unpopular policies of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Brown tried to emphasize Hogan’s role in the administration of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). Hogan served as appointments secretary, a job that involved steering thousands of people into state jobs and into slots on state boards and commissions.

Brown argued that Hogan should “stand up and take responsibility” for a 40 percent increase in tuition at some Maryland universities during the Ehrlich years because Hogan appointed most of the regents who approved the increases.

Hogan said he never advocated tuition increases.

“I can’t be blamed for everything that happened in the Ehrlich administration,” Hogan said, later adding: “It wasn’t the Ehr-
lich-Hogan administration. It is the O’Malley-Brown administration.”

At the same time, Hogan touted what he described as the Ehrlich administration’s strong record of appointing Democrats and Republicans to state posts, and he said the experience proved that he would be able to work with Maryland’s legislature.

Hogan said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) had recently said that “he believes that there’s a chance I’m going to be the next governor, and he’s looking forward to working in a bipartisan fashion with me for the good of the state.”

Miller, who has endorsed Brown, denied making the comment and issued a statement calling Hogan’s account “outrageous.”

“I do believe that people in government from both parties should work together for the good of the public,” Miller said. “But I have serious doubts about [Hogan’s] ability . . . to do so.”

Brown found opportunities during the debate to cite media reports that have questioned a $1.75 billion cost-saving plan released by Hogan. The plan, which compiled past audit findings, misstated one finding by about $100 million because of a misplaced decimal point. It also counted $455 million in savings that would require dramatically reducing public school construction.

Hogan said he would not cut “one penny” from school construction funding, but he did not directly acknowledge errors in his plan. Instead, he said he thinks his administration could save even more than what is cited in the plan — close to $2 billion.

Hogan called Brown’s pledge to make pre-K education available to all 4-year-olds in the state “a campaign gimmick,” saying Brown had no credible way to pay for it. Brown has said he would use casino proceeds to fund his plan, and said Monday that he would find another source of revenue if that fell short.

“Your plan is just smoke and mirrors,” Hogan said.