Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown won a straw poll of Western Maryland Democrats who gathered Saturday in one of the most Republican-dominated regions of the state.
Brown outpolled fellow gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler 76-64 at the Western Maryland Democratic Summit. Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County, who received a boost last year when she came in second to Brown in a straw poll before she had even announced her candidacy, came in third this year with 50 votes.
The vote was announced after a day during which Democrats heard pitches from the three contenders for the nomination for governor in the June 24 primary.
They also heard appeals from the three candidates for attorney general and chose Sen. Brian E. Frosh of Montgomery County by a wide margin over Del. Jon S. Cardin of Montgomery County and Del. Aisha Braveboy of Prince George's County. Summit attendees gave Frosh 116 votes, 35 for Cardin and 21 for Braveboy.
Meanwhile, Republicans attending the state party convention in Bethesda gave Charles County business executive Charles Lollar a narrow victory in their straw poll — showing that he maintains strong support among GOP activists despite an under-financed campaign. Lollar received 68 votes to 62 for former Ehrlich administration official Larry Hogan, 60 for Harford County Executive David R. Craig and 29 for Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County.
"It just shows that it's a wide-open race for governor in the Republican primary," said state party Executive Director Joe Cluster.
At the Western Maryland Democratic Summit, Brown, Gansler and Mizeur appeared separately and did not engage in direct debate. None of the gubernatorial candidates broke new ground in their speeches to the group of about 200 committed partisans who skipped a sunny spring day to listen to speeches in a dimly lit convention center.
The summit brought together Democrats from Maryland's five western counties — Carroll, Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett. It's a region where Republicans have dominated in recent decades except for Democratic pockets, such as the cities of Frederick and Hagerstown.
Brown did not mention either of his opponents. He portrayed Maryland as a state that has made significant strides under Gov. Martin O'Malley, his political partner and chief backer, and promised to focus on children in foster care and on protecting women.
"Our neighborhoods are safer today than they have been in 30 years," he said, adding: "I'm running for our daughters and sisters and our mothers, who ought to be free of the fear of domestic violence."
Gansler, however, took aim at the economic record of the O'Malley administration — without naming either O'Malley or Brown — and struck the most conservative tone of the three Democrats.
'"We've had 40 straight tax raises in the last eight years," he said. Gansler said that in that time, Maryland lost 7,000 businesses and fell to 43rd of the 50 states in manufacturing.
The attorney general noted that Western Maryland had suffered more than other areas of the state from the decline of manufacturing. He vowed to offer tax incentives for companies that relocate manufacturing plants to the state.
Mizeur reminded Western Marylanders that she has been a leading voice in the General Assembly in opposition to the natural gas extraction method known as fracking — a matter of special concern in Allegany and Garrett counties, where shale deposits could be targeted for drilling.
Mizeur said she pushed for the fracking moratorium O'Malley put in place while the state studies the practice, which critics have linked with water contamination and an increase in earthquakes.