For much of his life, Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Larry Hogan has held a ringside seat to political power.

Although the Republican is campaigning as a successful small-business man and Annapolis outsider, he grew up the son of a congressman, spending many weekends as a teenager at his dad’s Capitol Hill office. While his friends were flipping through comic books, Hogan likes to say, he was a nerd who read the Congressional Record.

When his father became the Prince George’s county executive, Hogan went to work for him. Years later, he joined the Cabinet of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), whom he’d gotten to know while working on one of the elder Hogan’s political campaigns.

The younger Hogan, owner of an Annapolis real estate firm, has never held elective office, despite several tries. Tuesday’s election presents the best chance yet for him to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Hogan has carried out a surprisingly competitive campaign in heavily Democratic Maryland by focusing on tax relief and the economy. In contrast to his opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), Hogan offers a clean break with the increasingly unpopular administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

A look at the two candidates and their views on some of the most pressing issues in the 2014 Maryland governors race.

“He’s tapped into an important vein,” said Michael S. Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor and former National Republican Committee chairman who has known Hogan since the 1980s. “People are pissed off about tax increases. They want to shake things up, and Larry has become the agent to do that.”

The anti-tax wave Hogan is riding is one that he helped create.

After exploring a run for governor four years ago, Hogan launched a watchdog group called Change Maryland, whose activities included cataloguing O’Malley tax hikes. The organization chided the governor so often for what it counted as “40 consecutive tax increases” that the phrase became part of Maryland’s political lexicon.

Brown and Democratic groups have tried to paint Hogan as a “dangerous politician” with a history of opposing gun control and abortion rights, who if elected would turn back the clock on social issues.

He opposed the sweeping gun-control law Maryland enacted last year and has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association. During earlier runs for office, Hogan supported restrictions on abortion. But he has played down both issues throughout the gubernatorial campaign, saying that he would not seek to overturn the gun measure and that he considers abortion and other social issues, including same-sex marriage, to be matters of settled Maryland law.

On the campaign trail, Hogan comes across as a happy warrior. On the boardwalk in Ocean City, the 58-year-old candidate played arcade games. At a retirement center in Bowie, he was coaxed into trying a ballroom dance. Inside an old-fashioned candy store in Catonsville, he seemed paralyzed by all the choices, even as he confessed that “my wife thinks I’m a little chunky.”

Hogan, who lives in Edgewater, said he would bring a passion for economic development to the governor’s office, along with negotiating skills, honed over a couple of decades, that could help him deal with a Democratic-led legislature.

Republican candidate for governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, campaigns at the Potomac Days parade in Potomac on Oct. 25. (Kate Patterson/For The Washington Post)

“The primary thing that I do every day is bring parties together to try to reach consensus,” he said. “My main skill set is as a negotiator.”

He has known some of the state’s leading lawmakers since his father’s political days.

A congressman’s son

Three-term representative Lawrence J. Hogan Sr. (Md.) was the only Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to vote in 1974 for all three articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon.

“I learned a lot from him about making the tough decisions and doing what you think is right,” Hogan said.

In 1974, the elder Hogan made an unsuccessful run for governor. Four years later, he was elected county executive in Prince George’s, where the family lived and where the population was slowly shifting from majority-white to majority-black. Hogan Sr. would be the last Republican to hold the post.

The younger Hogan, fresh out of college with a degree in government, joined his father’s administration. He often spoke for his dad during a sometimes rocky tenure that included unsuccessful attempts to limit access to abortions at county hospitals. Officials from Prince George’s remember him as energetic and eager to prove himself in his own right.

“You learn what your father stands for, and those qualities are absorbed into your own personality,” said James Aluisi, a Democrat whose tenure as county sheriff overlapped with the elder Hogan’s term.

In 1981, at age 24, Hogan took his first stab at elective office, losing badly in the Republican primary of a special election to fill his father’s old congressional seat.

A decade passed before Hogan ran again, taking on Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D) in a redrawn district that included Southern Maryland. Hogan won 44 percent of the vote, more than many expected, and vowed to try again two years later.

But that bid was cut short for financial reasons. Hogan owed money from the previous run, and his small real estate business was struggling.

Amid a wave of bank failures in the early 1990s, lenders called Hogan’s loans due, he said. He filed for bankruptcy in April 1994 and liquidated his business and personal assets, including his $750,000 home in Upper Marlboro.

“It was a painful thing to have to go through,” Hogan said. “I learned a lot about overcoming adversity and how to turn difficult financial situations around.”

In the two decades since, Hogan has rebuilt his business. “I just started from scratch and worked like heck,” he said.

Today, Hogan Cos., which operates out of a modest suite in an Annapolis office park, has completed $2 billion in real estate transactions, according to its Web site, with land deals involving more than 35,000 acres.

Hogan said he leads a team of about a dozen people. Other officers at the firm include two of his brothers, one of whom is a state delegate representing part of Frederick County.

The company specializes in land deals and commercial brokerage, with much of its work anchored in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, but it also dabbles in residential sales and manages developments elsewhere in the state.

Hogan has done well enough that he was able to lend his campaign $500,000 and buy a hulking recreational vehicle that he is leasing to the campaign.

The Ehrlich years

Ehrlich and Hogan became friends in 1982, when Hogan’s father ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. Ehrlich was a campaign volunteer. Hogan played multiple roles, including spokesman.

Hogan was “enthusiastic, funny, gregarious, loud, opinionated — everything you see today,” Ehrlich recalled.

In 2002, when Ehrlich became Maryland’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years, he recruited Hogan to be his appointments secretary, filling state government jobs and hundreds of slots on boards and commissions.

“He was steeped in politics, understood politics, and understood all the heavy lifting that went with being a Republican in Maryland,” Ehrlich said. “I wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Beyond his formal duties, Hogan was among the administration officials whom Ehrlich tapped regularly for advice on a range of policy issues and other matters. Steven L. Kreseski, a former Ehrlich chief of staff, said Hogan’s perch gave him a wide view of the workings of state government.

From time to time, he was sent to help manage relations with long-serving Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who remains one of the most powerful and mercurial players in the capital. Miller had run in the same political circles as Hogan’s father for decades.

On the final day of Ehrlich’s first legislative session, Hogan was called into negotiations with Miller to try to salvage a charter school bill — a key priority of the new governor’s. Joseph M. Getty, Ehrlich’s policy director at the time, said the bill was “floundering” before that meeting. It wound up passing, although Ehrlich didn’t get everything he wanted.

Hogan was at the center of a controversy over the Ehrlich administration’s firing of workers from the previous administration. Democrats in the legislature alleged that Ehrlich and his aides were overly aggressive in dismissing state employees and had targeted workers based on party affiliation.

In 2005, lawmakers set up a special committee to hold hearings on the issue, which both Ehrlich and Hogan derided as a “witch hunt.”

Some Democrats wanted Hogan charged with perjury because his testimony conflicted with that of another administration official. But lawmakers instead focused on legislative reforms to provide more protection to state employees. The committee concluded that some employees’ rights had been violated but did not substantiate a broad pattern of abuse.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), who co-chaired the effort, said it was clear that Hogan had a great deal of power over decisions that in the past had been made by state agencies and lower-level supervisors.

“Larry had taken secretary of appointments to a whole different level,” Middleton said. “Everything — hirings and firings — had to be vetted through his office. The governor just gave him this broad authority.

Hogan said his performance showed a commitment to bipartisanship that would help him govern effectively in Annapolis. He appointed many Democrats to state positions. Of the hundreds of nominations that required Senate confirmation, the Democratic-controlled chamber rejected one.

Midway through Ehrlich’s term, in 2004, Hogan married the former Yumi Kim, a South Korean-born artist he had met three years earlier at an exhibit. It was the first marriage for Hogan and the second for his wife, who has three grown daughters. One daughter recently appeared in a campaign ad, rebutting Democrats’ contentions that Hogan has a social agenda that is hostile to women.

Change Maryland

Ehrlich lost the governorship to O’Malley in 2006. Four years later, Hogan considered challenging the popular Democrat, saying that “somebody needs to stand up for the millions of Marylanders” whose taxes had been increased on O’Malley’s watch. But he backed off as Ehrlich appeared to be leaning toward another run.

O’Malley won handily, and Hogan launched Change Maryland. The group became a go-to source of information about and criticism of tax increases and the second-term governor’s economic policies.

Before Change Maryland, Hogan said, “we didn’t really have any loud voice of opposition or checks and balances in Annapolis.” Hogan was the group’s chairman and front man, speaking at conferences and getting quoted in news stories.

“It helped to position him as the voice of opposition,” said Richard Cross, a former Ehrlich speechwriter who is a blogger and newspaper columnist.

Getty, the former Ehrlich policy director and now a state senator from Carroll County, said he and his Republican colleagues “had all thought that tax policy was a key issue. And yet . . . there wasn’t much of an outcry until Change Maryland came along.”

Hogan’s primary opponents and the state Democratic Party accused him of unfairly using Change Maryland to get a head start on his gubernatorial bid without the disclosure requirements that come with being a candidate. Hogan’s eventual campaign manager was paid more than $35,000 by Change Maryland in the months before Hogan launched his campaign. The group also paid for a poll testing Hogan’s standing against Brown.

The state election board faulted the campaign for its handling of the poll but has otherwise dismissed the complaints, saying it has no authority to regulate exploratory activities.

Since the primary, Republicans have rallied behind Hogan, who according to most recent polls trails Brown by a modest margin.

Democratic leaders say Hogan’s election could usher in a fractious period of divided government, similar to what they experienced during the Ehrlich years. But Hogan’s boosters argue that his business background and political grounding would help him navigate Annapolis.

“He’s been involved enough in politics that he knows the process and the players,” said House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County). “But he’s never been in the deep end of the pool.”