Maryland Republican Larry Hogan. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The Republican nominee for Maryland governor, Larry Hogan, has become the first candidate in 20 years to participate in the state’s public financing system in the fall election, a move likely to leave his campaign with far less money to spend than his Democratic opponent.

Hogan will receive a grant of about $2.6 million from the state, and his campaign will not be allowed to spend more than that on the race, election officials said Wednesday. The decision cements Hogan’s financial disadvantage in the race against Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who spent about $9 million this year to win the Democratic primary and has started to replenish his war chest.

Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitsky sought to cast the decision Wednesday as a reflection of the candidate’s “grass-roots” campaign and an antidote to “entrenched incumbent machines” such as the Brown operation. Dubitsky acknowledged the financial disadvantage, however, even as he expressed confidence that Hogan will have enough money to win.

“While nothing will stop the millions in special-interest money pouring into Anthony Brown’s war chest, these funds and our large grass-roots organization enable us to mount an aggressive challenge to one-party rule in Maryland,” Dubitsky said.

Others cast the decision more pointedly as indicative of Hogan’s disadvantage in heavily Democratic Maryland.

“It surprises me a great deal that Hogan is going this way,” said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “It tells me that the smart money is going elsewhere or people with money don’t think Hogan is going to win.”

Mike Morrill, a longtime Democratic strategist in Maryland, said Hogan’s decision suggests that “he is not seeing the ability to raise the kind of money necessary to compete in the open political market.”

“He will have an amount that allows him to run a race that’s not embarrassing, but he’s acknowledging that he doesn’t have the ability to raise the kind of money that’s been necessary to compete in Maryland,” Morrill said.

Of all the Republican gubernatorial hopefuls on the ballot this year, Hogan seemed to have the most potential to raise money, Norris said.

Hogan, an Anne Arundel County businessman, served in the Cabinet of Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who established a fundraising network across the state during his tenure as governor.

Despite the 2-to-1 advantage that Democrats hold in party registration in Maryland, Ehrlich showed that a Republican could raise substantial sums in the state. Ehrlich raised more than $18 million for his unsuccessful 2006 reelection bid, eclipsing the amount collected by his successful Democratic challenger, then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley.

Brown’s campaign declined to comment on Hogan’s decision.

Hogan will receive the $2.6 million from Maryland’s Fair Campaign Financing Fund, which is financed by voluntary contributions on state income tax forms. He is also free to help raise money for the Maryland Republican Party and its local affiliates, which could collectively spend about $3.7 million promoting his candidacy under state law. The same limit applies to the state’s Democratic Party and its affiliates.

There is also the possibility that pro-Hogan groups operating independently of the campaign will spend money on the race that would not count against Hogan’s spending cap. After recent court rulings, that money is unlimited.

But there is no evidence that such groups are poised to raise or spend money on Hogan’s behalf. And Morrill, the Democratic strategist, said such a tactic could backfire. If outside conservative groups aid Hogan, there’s considerable risk, because their message is likely to be to the right of what is needed to win in a state such as Maryland, Morrill said.

“If that’s the baggage they’re going to hang around his neck, it’s going to sink him,” he said.

In a Washington Post poll early last month, Brown led Hogan 51 percent to 33 percent among all registered voters in a hypothetical general-election matchup.

The last candidate for Maryland governor to participate in the public financing system in the general election was Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who narrowly lost to Democrat Parris N. Glendening in 1994. Glendening did not participate in the system.

Both Hogan and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) participated in Maryland’s public financing system during the primaries, which were held last month. The rules for the primary were different. After raising sufficient “seed money,” candidates were given matching funds.

Hogan prevailed against three other Republican candidates who struggled to raise much money. Mizeur finished third on the Democratic side, behind Brown and state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.