Another political analyst said he thought Mizeur gave the best performance, striking a different tone that focused on her plans, not her biography.

"She was positive, she was direct, she said what she wanted to do very clearly," said Donald F. Norris, chair of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "The other two guys were beating each other up."

Norris said that while Brown and Gansler did not make any mistakes, each could have done better.

"On some really tough questions, Brown and Gansler ducked," he said.

Kromer said Mizeur did a good job of showing she belonged onstage with two statewide officials, though Eberly said Gregory seemed to shut her out of the debate. A transcript shows long passages where Gregory — whom Eberly called "maybe the biggest loser of the night" — went back and forth between Brown and Gansler and blocked Mizeur out.

That didn't stop Mizeur's camp from claiming victory.

Her running mate, the Rev. Delman Coates, said that while Gansler and Brown sparred over taxes, the health care rollout and character, Mizeur stayed on message about Maryland families.

"I think it was pretty clear she was the best candidate on that stage tonight," Coates said.

Gansler's surrogates continued on the attack after the debate ended.

"The lieutenant governor really ducked the opportunity to be straight about health care and the debacle that it turned into," said Glenn Ivey, former state's attorney for Prince George's County and husband to Gansler's running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey.

U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, who backs Brown, said the lieutenant governor showed he has taken responsibility for the exchange's trouble and demonstrated that he fixed the problem afterward.

"The fact is that there's a lot of accountability to go across the system," Edwards said. She called Gansler's suggestion there was a cover-up "ridiculous."

Coming TV debates

May 31. Republicans. 7 p.m. GOP candidates David Craig, Ron George, Larry Hogan and Charles Lollar debate on the Salisbury University campus. Broadcast by WMDT 47, an ABC affiliate. Moderated by Ernie Colburn of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce.

June 2. Democrats. 7 p.m. Anthony Brown, Douglas Gansler and Heather Mizeur meet for a live debate produced by Maryland Public Television at its Owings Mills studio. Moderated by MPT's Jeff Salkin.

June 6. Republicans. 7 p.m. MPT will broadcast a debate among the four candidates to be taped June 2 at the MPT studio. Jason Newton of WBAL-TV will moderate.