Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, left, joins Gov. Martin O'Malley, who spoke to hundreds of people supporting tougher gun laws in Maryland in Annapolis on March 1. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is poised to announce next month that he is running for governor, is in discussions with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman about joining his ticket, according to several people familiar with the talks.

The pairing of Democrats Brown and Ulman — who has been gearing up to run for governor himself — would shake up a highly competitive Democratic primary to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley just as it gets underway in earnest.

By adding Ulman as the lieutenant governor candidate, Brown could erase much of a huge early fundraising advantage that Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) enjoys over all other 2014 gubernatorial hopefuls in both parties. As of January, Ulman had $2.1 million sitting in his campaign account, more than the $1.6 million Brown reported having on hand.

Gansler, a former state’s attorney in Montgomery County, had $5.2 million, some of it stockpiled from a 2010 reelection campaign in which he did not have a Republican opponent. He is not expected to make his gubernatorial bid official until the fall, but he has hired a team of consultants and has started developing proposals on economic policy and other issues.

Boosters of Brown and Ulman say they would make a formidable ticket in a primary that lacks a clear front-runner.

Brown, a former delegate for Prince George’s County who served a tour of duty in Iraq as an Army reservist, is the handpicked successor of O’Malley (D), who is term-limited and weighing a 2016 presidential bid. If elected, Brown, 51, would be Maryland’s first black governor and only the third African American elected governor in the country since Reconstruction.

Ulman has gained recognition for expanding access to health care in his county, among other initiatives. Now 38, Ulman was 32 when first elected, making him the youngest county executive in Maryland’s history.

Late last year, Ulman made headlines by signing an executive order banning the sale of sugary drinks on county-owned property in an effort to combat childhood obesity.

In an interview, Ulman said he is still considering his own gubernatorial bid. But asked about the prospect of running for lieutenant governor, he said, “It’s fair to say I’m in a process of evaluating the best way to serve a state I really love.”

Brown declined to discuss the issue in an interview last week.

An adviser to Brown stressed that a final decision has not been made about a running mate and that an announcement would not take place until at least several weeks after Brown’s May 10 campaign kickoff, to be held at Prince George’s Community College in Largo.

But several people familiar with talks between Brown and Ulman described the Howard executive as the clear front-runner for the No. 2 spot on Brown’s ticket. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the process.

Ulman’s interest in the job has been prompted in part, the sources said, by a growing realization of the challenges he would face in winning the nomination and a sense that he is young enough that he could run for governor later in his career.

Ulman, who is term-limited in Howard, is also considering a run for attorney general, the office Gansler is vacating.

Other Democrats eye a run

The still-evolving Democratic field for the June 2014 gubernatorial primary could also include other candidates: Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.) and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (Montgomery).

Ruppersberger, 67, a former Baltimore County executive, said last week that he is being urged by supporters to get into the race. He said he will give it serious consideration in a couple of months once his workload in Congress settles down.

“I do love my state. I’m homegrown,” Ruppersberger said. “And I do like managing.”

A Ruppersberger candidacy could transform a primary in which regional loyalties traditionally play a big role. Ruppersberger could be the only Baltimore area Democratic gubernatorial contender in a contest now dominated by candidates from the Washington suburbs.

But many leading Democrats have said privately that they do not expect Ruppersberger, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, to run.

Mizeur, 40, has been doing far more to prepare for the race, including holding a series of house parties to raise money and share her views. She could be the only woman in the Democratic field, and although considered a long shot, a Mizeur victory would also be historic: She would be Maryland’s first female governor and its first openly gay governor.

Mizeur said last week that she is “taking a serious look” at running.

Gansler, 50, said in an interview that he is looking at the race but has no immediate plans to announce.

“I think there’s a general feeling that political campaigns are too long,” he said. “People want to see their elected officials focused on their jobs.”

Gansler, however, has started becoming more outspoken about issues not directly related to his job. In the interview, he said economic development is the most important issue facing Maryland in coming years.

“Virginia is cleaning our clocks economically,” Gansler said. “We’re barely competitive. What we have right now is not a sustainable mode for economic growth.”

He was also critical of the number of tax increases that have occurred under the O’Malley-Brown administration, including the recently passed increase in gas taxes to fund transportation projects.

“To me, the solution to our transportation needs should not be to tax poor people and working families,” Gansler said.

Brown identified some of the same challenges for Maryland that Gansler did, including job creation and education. But Brown said “the biggest challenge will be to build on our success.”

He defended the need for the gas tax increase, saying that several projects, including the long-planned Purple Line rail link in the Washington suburbs, would probably have been “dead in the water” without it.

“We’ve got to get back to the business of investing in Maryland,” Brown said. “You can’t do that without a modern infrastructure.”

Brown also said a goal in coming years is for Maryland “to be better for more Marylanders.” He cited the K-12 education system, which has received national accolades but still has persistent disparities in achievement among racial groups.

“Until every student, whether you’re educated in Bethesda or Baltimore, has access to a world-class education, there’s more work to do,” he said.

GOP hopefuls

The race to succeed O’Malley will also probably attract a handful of Republican hopefuls in a state where Democrats hold a 2-to-1 advantage in party registration and where only one GOP gubernatorial candidate — former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. — has prevailed in the past generation.

Those looking at the race include Harford County Executive David R. Craig; Blaine R. Young, president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners; Larry Hogan, a former Ehrlich Cabinet member who leads the group Change Maryland; Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate last year; and Charles Lollar, a businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in 2010.