Maryland’s freshly minted Republican nominee for governor wasted little time on Wednesday before giving his Democratic rival a taste of what’s to come.
Larry Hogan, an Anne Arundel County businessman, sent a Web video to supporters mocking Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) as “the most incompetent man in Maryland” — a spoof on a beer commercial featuring “the most interesting man in the world.”
“He’s happy to talk about accomplishments — he just doesn’t have any,” the narrator says before excoriating Brown for the botched rollout of the state’s health insurance exchange, a string of tax increases and a rise in the unemployment rate.
Brown said it was “unfortunate that Mr. Hogan would start the campaign with a negative ad, but in a way, it doesn’t surprise me.”
“He doesn’t really have a record to run on,” Brown said. “He’s embraced a lot of the same old tired, failed policies of the past that make working families work that much harder.”
Hogan, the son of a former congressman, faces an uphill slog against Brown in heavily Democratic Maryland. But observers expect a spirited fight. Brown boosters say they are not going to declare victory prematurely in a year when many voters are tuned out or irritated with politicians.
“It’s a testy and unpredictable electorate just as it was in 2010,” said Tom Russell, a veteran Democratic strategist who that year ran the reelection campaign of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). “But Anthony went through that, and I know for a fact they’re not taking anything for granted.”
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, according to a Washington Post poll this month.
Although Hogan is reaching out to Democratic and independent voters — the formula used in 2002 by Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state’s only GOP governor in the past generation — Brown holds a strong advantage among independents and an overwhelming advantage among members of his party, according to the Post poll.
In an interview Wednesday, Hogan said he will press the same themes in the general election campaign that he did in the primary: that Maryland is overtaxed and unfriendly to business. “Anthony Brown is asking for a promotion,” Hogan said. “So you have to take a look at his record over the last eight years. To a certain extent, this election is a referendum on the O’Malley-Brown administration.”
In many respects, Hogan has been preparing that case since 2011, when he founded Change Maryland, a watchdog group that chronicled tax increases passed under O’Malley and documented his administration’s other alleged shortcomings.
Brown has pledged to “build on the successes” of the O’Malley years, with an agenda that includes expanding pre-kindergarten education and improving Maryland’s business climate.
During the primary campaign, Hogan generally steered clear of divisive social issues — saying, for example, that he would not revisit the legalization of same-sex marriage because he felt the voters had spoken. He said he plans to focus on economic matters, such as tax relief for the middle class.
Brown has said he wants to take a comprehensive look at the state’s tax code and sees no need to raise taxes in the foreseeable future.
The lieutenant governor is fully aware that tax policy is “a conversation we’re going to have,” campaign manager Justin Schall said. But he added that the Brown campaign also plans to explore Hogan’s record — both in government and in regard to “some of the business challenges he’s faced” with his real-estate company.
Brown signaled Wednesday that he intends to make an issue of Hogan’s association with Ehrlich, who was voted out of office after a single term marked by acrimony between the governor’s office and the heavily Democratic legislature. Hogan served as appointments secretary during the Ehrlich administration, a Cabinet-level position that involved steering hundreds of people into government jobs.
“Larry Hogan is also going to have to answer to his record, where under the Ehrlich administration they had one of the largest expansions in the size of state government and its budget in the history of the state,” Brown said in an interview while campaigning in Baltimore. “He’s going to have to explain his participation in an administration that jacked up college tuition costs, one of the largest expansions of taxes and fees in state history. He’s going to have to talk about that.”
Hogan said he considers Ehrlich a friend, but added: “We’re just entirely different people. Just because I happen to know Bob Ehrlich doesn’t mean I agree with everything he’s ever done.”
Money could be a big factor in the fall campaign. Hogan was the first Republican in 20 years to participate in the state’s public financing system during the primary and has suggested he might do so in the general.
That would limit his overall spending to about $2.6 million — a fraction of the roughly $10 million that Brown spent on the primary. The lieutenant governor, who was endorsed by former president Bill Clinton and is backed by virtually the entire Democratic establishment in Maryland, is not expected to have much trouble replenishing his campaign account.
The Brown team’s willingness to punch back against attacks from Hogan was on display Wednesday as well. Aides alerted reporters that Hogan’s video includes a shot of Brown and his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D), in a strongman pose known as “Zaching.”
The move is named for Zach Lederer, a former University of Maryland student basketball manager who flexed his muscles after exiting brain surgery. The image went viral, and people worldwide began imitating the pose in photos as a show of support. In the Hogan video, the photo of Brown and Ulman is used as the closing shot, with no explanation — an apparent attempt to make them look silly.
“Either Larry Hogan is completely out of touch or callous beyond belief,” Schall said shortly after the video was distributed. “It’s sad, and frankly disturbing, that Larry Hogan would start his campaign by ridiculing a cancer patient who has passed away.”
The Hogan camp dismissed the criticism.
“That was what he took issue with?” asked Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitsky. “A photo lacking a caption we copied from his Facebook page? We’d thought the lieutenant governor might have at least wanted to respond to the 40 consecutive tax hikes, his botched health exchange rollout or doubling of the unemployment rate.”
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.