Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler is running for governor as a Democrat. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / September 22, 2013)

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler on Thursday launched the first critical broadcast ad of the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nomination contest, taking the O'Malley-Brown administration to task for the failed launch of the state's health care insurance exchange. 

Gansler's 30-second radio spot ends a string of positive ads run by his campaign and that of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown. A third candidate with less money, Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County, has yet to go on the air.

The Gansler ad does not mention Brown by name but repeats press coverage labeling the exchange's launch a "debacle" and "one of the worst-performing in the country" -- points the administration does not dispute.

Brown was at least nominally tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Maryland, making him a target for criticism over its failure, which O'Malley had blamed on the state's contractor.

The Gansler campaign makes a somewhat more questionable claim when it labels the launch "a $261 million failure."

There is no question that a great deal of money was wasted in the failed launch, but that figure is a total of all the money appropriated for the launch of the exchange, including money that has not yet been spent. As of last week, state officials reported that $129 million had been spent on the failed exchange, which the O'Malley administration decided to replace after the enrollment period that ended March 31.

The ad is relatively mild by the standards of today's negative advertising. It starts with a statement by Bonnita Spikes, a retired nurse from Prince George's County who describes trying unsuccessfully to sign up for insurance through the web site more than 50 times. A narrator goes on to say that thousands of people were left without health care coverage because of the exchange's problems.

"Doug Gansler just wouldn’t put up with this mess," the narrator says. The ad then pivots to an assertion that as attorney general, Gansler has stood up to health insurance companies.  

So far, Brown's campaign has run only feel-good ads about the lieutenant governor. With the campaign entering a new phase, it's uncertain how long that will last.

Brown campaign manager Justin Schall issued a statement in reply to the Gansler ad:

“The truth is Anthony Brown worked to get over 295,000 Marylanders quality, affordable healthcare by helping to organize a staff surge and replacing vendors that failed to deliver, in stark contrast Doug Gansler has done nothing except join Republicans in attacking Obamacare and tearing down our progress in Maryland.”

Gansler has stated that he supports the Obama administration health care law and has only criticized the way it has been implemented in Maryland.