Democrat candidates for Maryland Attorney General state Sen. Brian Frosh, left, Del. Jon Cardin, center, and Del. Aisha Braveboy debate at the University of Maryland. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

The nice guy of the Maryland Senate came out aggressively against the front-runner with the gilded name, while the attorney from Prince George’s County focused on civil rights Monday evening during the first attorney general debate.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) emphasized his two decades of experience and took jabs at Del. Jon S. Cardin (D-Baltimore County), who has been criticized for missing votes in the House of Delegates.

Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Prince George’s), the least experienced of the group, tried to distinguish herself by focusing on issues such as the plight of historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs, in the state.

All three are seeking their party’s nomination in the June 24 primary to succeed Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), who is running for governor. They represent some of the most populous jurisdictions in the state, but generating excitement for the race has been difficult.

Frosh, who is trailing Cardin in early polls, began his remarks by saying, “I will show up every day,” a possible allusion to reports that Cardin missed 75 percent of his votes during the last legislative session.

The 44-year-old Cardin said that family health issues drew him away from the State House on several occasions. He added that his committee chairman was informed and excused him.

Braveboy said that as a leader, “I’m expected to be there, and I show up.”

When it comes to their platforms, the candidates are nearly indistinguishable on progressive issues. All promised to fight for the environment, are opposed to the death penalty and are committed to making sure crime stays low in Maryland.

But a few key issues stand out.

Cardin used the story of a Howard County teen who committed suicide after being bullied online as an example of “next-generation issues” that could become an increasing threat to families and children. In 2013, he introduced and helped pass Grace’s Law, which made cyberbullying a misdemeanor in the state.

Braveboy did not shy away from a question about whether she would use the attorney general’s office as a bully pulpit on controversial issues.

“I would not defend the state’s position on HBCUs,” Braveboy said, referring to a lawsuit in which Maryland’s historically black institutions alleged that the state violated their rights by sanctioning duplicate degree programs at other state colleges and underfunding their schools.

Frosh, who has had a role in nearly every major piece of state legislation passed in recent years, said that his reputation as a consensus builder shows he is suited to solving some of the state’s toughest legal issues.

“I excel at bringing people together and finding common ground,” he said.

Frosh authored one of nation’s strictest gun control laws and pushed for legalization of gay marriage. He also helped to build support for Maryland’s Dream Act, which gives in-state tuition to undocumented youths enrolling in Maryland’s public colleges and universities — a bill, he said, that “Jon Cardin opposed.”

In his closing remarks, Frosh emphasized his sense of judgment, which elicited a sarcastic smile from Cardin.

In 2009, Cardin apologized for staging an elaborate marriage proposal to his wife with the help of Baltimore police.

“Character is not just about making mistakes, but how you react to the mistake,” Cardin responded during the debate. He added that he made a contribution to a police foundation to compensate.

Despite having the support of Democratic leaders and garnering major endorsements, Frosh has struggled to eclipse Cardin, who is the nephew of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D), a respected name in Maryland politics.

Braveboy is building her base from Prince George’s and focusing on issues that include the foreclosure crisis and economic opportunity.

Early polling showed Cardin leading Braveboy with Frosh far behind, but a large number of voters were undecided.

Whichever candidate wins the primary will be the heavy favorite in November, since Maryland leans so strongly Democratic. The nominee will face Republican Jeffrey N. Pritzker and Libertarian Leo Wayne Dymowski in the general election.

The role of the attorney general is to enforce and, to some degree, interpret the intent of laws passed by the General Assembly and to represent the interests of the state. The attorney general also recruits and works to retain the litigators who represent state government departments and is consulted by the governor on legal issues.

A recording of the debate will be available Wednesday at

The candidates will meet June 9 for a second debate.