Hundreds of Maryland Realtors rallied Wednesday in a driving rain in Annapolis to protest Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to phase out the mortgage interest deduction -- along with other tax breaks -- as part of his budget plan.

Gathering cheers from the crowd was the governor's chief Democratic nemesis, Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Using rhetoric that could easily have come from a conservative Republican, Franchot denounced the proposed deduction phase-out.

"This mortgage interest deduction proposal would be a deadly blow to these small businesses and families," the comptroller said.

"Why are we doing this during these tough economic times? What do we gain from this pain being inflicted on our own citizens?," he demanded.

Franchot, a former delegate from Montgomery County, went on to denounce the state's spending habits, comparing it to a free-spending family that wins a million-dollar lottery payout and squanders it in a year.

"Welcome to the General Assembly," he said.

The comptroller has been positioning himself for an expected move on the right flank of the Democratic electorate on a potential 2014 race for governor. He certainly did himself no harm Wednesday among any Realtors who happen to be registered Democrats.

Incidentally, the assembled real estate agents probably could have stayed dry and have achieved the same result. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller all but buried the proposal in and interview after the Senate session.

"I think it's going to fall by the wayside," Miller said. "Both the House and the Senate leadership have expressed displeasure with the proposal and are seeking alternatives."