OCEAN CITY, Md. — The first public forum between the two men vying to become the next governor of Maryland had each candidate warning an audience of county leaders on Saturday that electing his opponent would have dire consequences.
Republican Larry Hogan cautioned that under the leadership of Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Maryland’s future would be under threat. Brown would do little more than carry on the policies of the current administration, including an “anti-business attitude” and multiple tax hikes, Hogan said.
“The mismanagement of Maryland’s state government has crushed our economy,” Hogan, an Anne Arundel County businessman, told a conference of the Maryland Association of Counties. “We’ve had the largest mass exodus of taxpayers fleeing our state, voting with their feet and leaving for the exits.”
Brown didn’t hold back in his criticism of his opponent.
In an unusually aggressive performance, Brown went after Hogan’s opposition to a wide-ranging gun-control bill that passed last year, suggesting Hogan would try to roll it back if elected.
“Do we want common-sense gun policies to help law enforcement protect our children and take guns out of the hands of criminals and domestic abusers?” Brown asked the audience. “Or will we choose to allow military assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines on our streets, in our communities and in our schools?”
Hogan opposed the legislation, but he has said repeatedly that he has no plans to ask the Democratic-dominated legislature to repeal the law, which banned 45 types of assault rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and included new fingerprinting and training requirements to purchase a handgun.
Though Saturday’s event was billed as the first forum between the two candidates since they each won their respective primaries on June 24, they appeared separately under a format that did not allow any interaction or questions from the audience.
Even that was a source of contention, with Hogan using part of his opening statement to complain that Brown had balked at appearing with him on stage.
“Unfortunately, my understanding is that he doesn’t really feel comfortable with that kind of format,” Hogan said.
So far, the two campaigns have agreed to one televised debate, in early October in Baltimore. If Saturday’s event was any indication, the accusations are likely to fly.
Brown said that he and Hogan offer a choice between “two very different visions for Maryland’s future.” He said he is fighting for “working families and middle-class values” while Hogan would look out for “a privileged few and special interests.”
After the forum, Hogan’s aides insisted once again that he has no plans to seek a repeal of the gun law, given the make-up of the General Assembly.
Brown pressed that issue on Friday as well, during an event here at which he received the endorsements of three Democratic county executives who had withheld their support until after the primary: Isiah Leggett of Montgomery County; Rushern L. Baker III of Prince George’s County and Kevin Kamenetz of Baltimore County.
At Friday’s event, Brown warned that if Hogan is elected, “cop-killing bullets will be back on the street.” On Saturday, Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitsky said he found that assertion “atrocious.”
The Brown campaign showed no sign of backing off.
“This is yet another example of Larry Hogan trying to hide his views, views he knows are far outside Maryland’s mainstream,” said Brown campaign manager Justin Schall.
Dubitsky said Brown’s aggressive style was likely a reflection of a race that is shaping up to be more competitive than many expected.
In Maryland, Democrats hold more than a 2-to-1 advantage in party registration. And in a June Washington Post poll, Brown, who would be Maryland’s first African American governor, led Hogan 51 percent to 33 percent among all registered voters in a hypothetical general-election matchup.
Recently, both Democratic and Republican operatives have suggested that the race is significantly closer based on private polls they’ve seen conducted by candidates.
Hogan has acknowledged that he can’t win in November without the support of a sizable number of Democrats, and he alluded to that during Saturday’s forum, saying the race was “not your typical fight between Republicans and Democrats.”
Hogan is seeking to court Democratic support by focusing on a few core issues: taxes, jobs and the economy. On Saturday, he broadened his critique of the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to include the state’s rising heroin addiction, in rural areas as well as cities.
“We haven’t done anything about it,” Hogan charged. “This is something that’s infecting our entire state.”
Brown, who has served under O’Malley for nearly eight years, has sought during the campaign both to take credit for the administration’s accomplishments and to put forward his own agenda.
“While there’s been good work done, there are many challenges ahead,” Brown said Saturday. “Elections are not about the past and where we’ve been.”
He touted his plans for a large but gradual expansion of pre-kindergarten and criticized Hogan for saying that shouldn’t be a priority. Both Hogan and Brown have called for reducing achievement gaps in Maryland schools based on race and income. Brown said expanding pre-K is one of the best ways to do that.
Brown also said again Saturday that he wants to improve Maryland’s business climate.
The forum also touched on several issues of importance to county leaders, including cuts in state funding for local road improvements during the O’Malley administration. Hogan pledged to restore those funds, while Brown said he would work with county leaders to find common ground going forward.
Brown and Hogan appeared during a slot in the county organization’s summer conference typically reserved for a speech from the sitting governor. O’Malley, who is weighing a 2016 White House bid, was in the middle of a busy weekend of out-of-state travel on Saturday, with appearances in Mississippi, Arkansas and New Hampshire.
O’Malley, who steps down in January, made an appearance at the conference earlier in the week.
Events hosted by Brown and Hogan throughout the weekend also underscored a difference in style between the two men.
On Friday morning, Hogan toured the oceanfront boardwalk to call attention to new state regulations — and in some cases, new fees — on arcade-style games.
Along the way, he played arcade games, called his running mate a “doughnut-a-holic” and sampled the caramel popcorn and other boardwalk favorites.
Brown held a far more standard event on Friday afternoon, speaking from behind a podium, surrounded by a few dozen elected officials who support him.
The two gubernatorial hopefuls found some common ground during their stay in this beach town. On Friday, both participated in the “ice bucket challenge” that has gone viral in recent days as a way to raise money and awareness for ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
On Friday afternoon, Hogan posted a photo on Facebook of he and his running mate, Boyd Rutherford, pouring ice water over their heads. On Friday night, near the site of a crab feast that was part of the county conference, Brown and his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, followed suit.