Brown has some catching up to do in the money race for 2014. Gansler had $5.2 million in the bank at the beginning of the year compared with Brown's $1.6 million and Ulman's $2.1 million. Brown and Gansler are under pressure to raise money this year, because, as state elected officials, they are barred from accepting contributions during the 90-day General Assembly session that begins in January.

Brown brings other strengths beyond the two terms he's served as lieutenant governor. A graduate of Harvard University, he served five years on active duty as an Army officer before returning to Harvard to earn a law degree. He was elected to the House of Delegates in 1998 and was quickly identified as a comer. After re-election in 2002, he began to move into House leadership positions but had to juggle his political career and military duties when he was deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserve.

"He's got a terrific resume," Willis said. "There aren't too many helicopter pilots [in politics]. There aren't too many military vets."

Brown, the only African-American among those currently expected to run on the Democratic side, starts off with an advantage because black voters are expected to make up at least 35 percent of the Democratic primary electorate, Norris said. Black voters will be well aware, he said, that they could be helping to elect the first African-American governor of Maryland.

The lieutenant governor has been courting Ulman as a possible running mate. Ulman, a skilled politician and impressive fundraiser but with tepid name recognition beyond his home county, faces a decision on whether to pursue a long-shot bid for governor or to team up with the lieutenant governor for what would be a formidable ticket.

Brown said Thursday that he's looking for a partner with whom he would be comfortable campaigning and governing. "I'm interested in the sort of model the governor and I used," he said.

Brown's prospective rivals do not appear to be in any hurry to declare. Spokesmen for Gansler and Ruppersberger said no time frame has been determined. Joanna Belanger, Mizeur's campaign manager, said she expects her to make a formal announcement this summer. A spokesman for Ulman said he wants to announce his plans "sooner rather than later" but has set no date.

Willis said Brown's potential rivals can afford to wait and see what happens next. He noted that Maryland history is rich in examples of early front-runners who faded before primary day, including Democratic Lt. Gov. Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg and Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley in 1994 alone.

And even if Brown were to prevail in the primary, Townsend showed in 2002 that it's possible for a Democrat to lose a race in this deeply blue state.

"If you're playing cards right now, you'd say the lieutenant governor has more cards than anybody else," Willis said. "The other people still have enough resources to stay in the game. They don't have to fold yet. They can still draw another couple cards."

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown

Born: Huntington, N.Y., Nov. 21, 1961

Resides: Prince George's County

Party: Democrat

Education: Harvard, A.B., 1984. Harvard Law, J.D., 1992

Military: Army, 1984-1989, became a captain. U.S. Army Reserve, 1989-present, colonel. Served in Iraq, 2004-2005.

Political: House of Delegates, 1999-2007. Lieutenant governor, 2007-present.

Personal: Married to Karmen Bailey Walker, 2012. Two children from first marriage, stepson from second.

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