Maryland gubernatorial candidates Anthony G. Brown (D), left, and Larry Hogan (R) in their third and final debate, held at Maryland Public Television’s studios in Owings Mills, Md. (Patrick Semansky/Pool photo via AP)

Meeting for the final time before Maryland’s election, the two leading candidates for governor sparred in a wide-ranging debate Saturday over improving the state’s business climate and their respective abilities to lead the heavily Democratic state.

Anthony G. Brown (D) and Larry Hogan (R) appeared to grow exasperated with each other at several points during the hour-long face-off, as they highlighted differences in their approaches to educational disparities, transportation investments and hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas.

In response to a question about how he would differ from Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Brown praised much of the work of his mentor but said the top strategic goal in his administration would be “to have the most competitive business climate in the nation.” Brown, the state’s lieutenant governor, said that tax relief for small businesses would be one way to help reach that goal.

Brown was mocked by Hogan, the owner of an Anne Arundel County real estate company, who said that the state had suffered several “self-inflicted wounds” during eight years of O’Malley and Brown, including an “onerous” regulatory environment for businesses and taxes that are too high.

“You’ve been crushing small businesses,” Hogan said during the their third and final debate, which was broadcast statewide by Maryland Public Television as well as on commercial stations in Baltimore, Salisbury and Hagerstown.

Brown and Hogan also traded blows about their qualifications and preparation to lead the state.

At several points, Hogan, who served as appointments secretary under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), sought to make the case that he could work with Democrats, saying “my entire life has been about bipartisanship.”

He said that as governor, he would be in a position to cut the budget on his own but was confident that he could work with a Democratic-led legislature to make good on his campaign promises to roll back tax increases passed under O’Malley.

Brown pounced on a recent newspaper interview in which Hogan said part of his role as governor would be playing “goalie” so he could stop bad Democratic policies from being implemented.

“Goalies play defense,” Brown said. “You can’t play defense and be an effective governor.”

He argued that he was better positioned to work with the legislature, having served for eight years as a delegate from Prince George’s County and nearly eight years as lieutenant governor. Brown said his priorities in a first legislative session would be expanding pre-kindergarten education, which he has made a leading cause of his campaign.

Hogan also used a question about the state’s online health insurance exchange to argue that Brown was unprepared to lead. The state’s marketplace crashed on the day of its debut and was so glitch-ridden that it is being rebuilt with technology from Connecticut.

Brown, who was tasked by O’Malley with overseeing implementation of federal health-care reforms, acknowledged that the state had experienced “technical difficulties” but said he took a greater role in fixing the problems.

“When you have adversity of challenges, you don’t run away,” Brown said.

Hogan countered that Brown was failing to take responsibility.

“We were the worst in the entire country,” Hogan said. “You did not earn a promotion based on your performance there.”

Several policy differences were aired during the debate, including how the state should prioritize transportation spending.

Brown advocated “a balanced approach” between roads and mass transit, including the planned light-rail Purple Line in the Washington suburbs, a project he has championed.

Hogan argued that the emphasis should being on addressing a backlog of road projects rather than expensive mass transit projects.

Hogan enthusiastically advocated for moving forward with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Western Maryland, saying the state is “sitting on an enormous gold mine” of natural gas. He criticized the O’Malley administration for “kicking the can down the road” with various studies.

Brown defended the cautious approach, saying he wants to be sure the process can be accomplished without putting residents or workers at risk. “I believe we can do it,” he said.

The candidates also stressed different priorities in response to a question about closing racial and income disparities in Maryland schools. Brown argued that his proposed pre-K expansion was key. Hogan talked about expanding charter schools.

At times during the hour-long debate, the frustrations of the long campaign were clearly on display, with the candidates talking over one another and interrupting each other. At one point, Hogan accused Brown of having aired “some of the most hateful, most disgraceful television ads that have ever been run.”

Brown and Hogan had debated twice before on television in recent weeks, in Baltimore and the Washington area. Their running mates also faced off on the radio Thursday.

With debates behind them, both tickets are preparing to host high-profile members of their parties to help generate enthusiasm and raise money.

President Obama is scheduled to appear with Brown at a high school in Prince George’s County on Sunday. The event, part of a multi-state push by Obama, has been billed as a rally to promote early voting, which starts Thursday. Turnout in Prince George’s, a majority black jurisdiction, will be crucial for Brown, who would be only the third African American governor elected in the United States.

Hogan, meanwhile, is welcoming Tom Ridge (R), the former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security secretary, to a reception Monday night in Gambrills. On Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, plans to be in Maryland to help Hogan raise money for the Maryland Republican Party for a second time.

Hogan is participating in the state’s public financing system, and his campaign is not allowed to spend more than the roughly $2.6 million grant that he received from the state. But Hogan is free to help the Republican Party raise money to promote his candidacy.

Recent polls have shown Brown with a relatively modest lead in the heavily Democratic state. A Washington Post poll gave Brown a nine-percentage-point lead, while Hogan was down by seven points in a Baltimore Sun poll.