President Barack Obama sought to rally support for Anthony G. Brown's gubernatorial campaign at an event in Prince George's County on Sunday, telling an enthusiastic crowd that the lieutenant governor is offering a better vision for the middle class than his Republican opponent.
In his first appearance on stage with a candidate running in this year's midterm elections, the president sounded themes from his own campaigns, arguing that Brown's positions on education and the economy represented a message of hope and that Republicans were peddling fear and cynicism in races across the country.
With just more than two weeks to go until the election, Brown and Republican Larry Hogan are working to coax voters to the polls on Nov. 4 and for early voting, which begins Thursday. Hogan worked the crowds at an oyster festival in St. Mary's County while the Obama event was clearly aimed at engaging African-Americans to turn out for Brown.
"You deserve leaders that don't root for failure, don't try to re-fight the old battles, don't try to peddle fear," the president told about 8,000 people — mainly African-Americans — packed into a high school gymnasium in Upper Marlboro. "If you want good policies to continue in Maryland, you've got to vote for it."
Hogan will also have outside help in coming days from his own party's leaders. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for instance, is expected to attend several events for him on Tuesday.
In Leonardtown, Hogan did not make a formal speech but stopped in on vendors and chatted with customers at the St. Mary's County Oyster Festival.
Billy and Susan Johnson of Morganza sat in the corner of an arts and crafts pavilion, selling the dried flowers they raise on what used to be the family's tobacco farm. As Hogan wandered by, their faces lit up.
"Hey, it's the celebrity!" Billy Johnson said not to Hogan but to his daughter, Jaymi Sterling, who recently starred in a television ad that pushed back on Brown effort to paint Hogan as weak on women's issues. "I just saw you on TV!"
Sterling laughed as Hogan spoke with three potential voters who decried the so-called "rain tax."
"He'll get a lot of St. Mary's County support," said Susan Johnson, a self-described conservative who had spent part of the morning putting Hogan placards up on the family's farm.
Speaking to an overflow room before the Brown event, Obama told supporters that "this will be a done deal if you vote."
Though his approval ratings have slipped in much of the country, Obama remains popular in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1. That is particularly true among African-American voters, 98 percent of whom have a favorable view of the president, according to a recent statewide poll.
Obama has headlined a bevy of fundraisers for Democrats, including one last month in Baltimore, but Sunday's visit to Maryland was the beginning of a more aggressive public campaign schedule. Obama left Maryland on Sunday for Chicago to campaign for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. He is also set to visit Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in coming days.
Michelle McDonald, a 48-year-old dance teacher, brought her 6-year-old son, Elijah, to the Brown rally to see the president. McDonald said she believed the event would inspire young people to turn out.
"Hopefully it can be a motivator," she said. "What it means to me is beyond words."
The president's address was interrupted by a protester holding a sign that read "#NotOneMore," a reference to a campaign by immigration advocates who are upset the administration has delayed executive action on deportations until after the election.
A steady stream of people, meanwhile, left the event shortly after the president began speaking. It was not clear whether they were escaping the gym's heat — at least one person was carried out by stretcher — or for some other reason. Many carried signs and wore T-shirts for Brown, and many had waited hours to attend.
Brown, who would be the state's first African-American governor, led Hogan 49 percent to 42 percent in poll conducted earlier this month for The Baltimore Sun.
As Hogan stood in the sun in St. Mary's County, wiping a garlic-and-Old Bay sauce from his fingers after downing another raw bivalve, Floyd Owens of Leonardtown approached and gripped him on the forearm.
A member of the local Rotary Club, he told the Republican that he and his wife love Maryland, in part because their children and grandchildren live here, but will have to leave the state when they retire thanks to high taxes.
"We can't stay here," Owens said.
Hogan said he'd heard similar stories while traveling across Maryland and told Owens it would be part of his mission as governor to cut many of the taxes that make it hard for retirees and others on fixed incomes.
Hogan's brand of low-key retail politicking seemed a good match for the event, and as he sat at a picnic bench, he said that was fitting for the kind of campaign he has tried to run.
Since he's being outspent by a roughly 7-1 ratio, he said, his best chance has always been to get out and meet as many people as possible.
"I love getting out and meeting the people," he said. "And I love oysters."