Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown has strengthened his lead in the fiercely contested Democratic primary for governor and enters the campaign's final two weeks with a 2-1 advantage over his closest competitor, according to a new poll for The Baltimore Sun.

In the Republican race, businessman and activist Larry Hogan is running well ahead of his three opponents, the poll found.

"These races have clear front-runners," said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, the Annapolis polling firm that conducted the survey for The Sun. While things could change, Raabe said, "there's no evidence right now that anyone is uniquely positioned to overtake them."

All three Democrats vying to succeed term-limited Gov. Martin O'Malley made gains over the past few months of debates, television ads and intense campaigning. But Brown's rivals have not cut into the dominant lead he staked out earlier this year.

Brown has garnered the support of 41 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, including a majority of African-Americans and a large share of women, the poll found. Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's support stands at 20 percent and Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County has 15 percent.

The lieutenant governor not only enjoys a sizable lead, but most of his voters say they are unlikely to change their mind. A solid 68 percent of voters who back Brown described their support as "firm," the largest percentage of any candidate from either party. According to the survey, Brown leads in every area of the state except for Baltimore County, where a greater number of voters support Gansler.

Though Brown's advantage is formidable, Raabe said that with his opponents readying a last-minute push, the contest is not over yet.

"This is not at all an impossible race for someone else to win," Raabe said. "But Brown has significant resources and organizational support behind him. It becomes a harder task for someone to overtake him."

A similar picture emerged in the Republican race.

Hogan has built on his lead since February and now is favored by 27 percent of likely GOP voters. His two closest competitors, Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar, stand at 12 percent each, while Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County is languishing at 6 percent.

The poll of 499 likely Democratic primary voters and 501 likely Republican primary voters was conducted by telephone from May 31 to June 3 and has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points. The primary election is June 24. Early voting begins Thursday.

Among other findings, the poll showed that most Democrats — 59 percent — think the state is headed in the right direction. An overwhelming majority of Republicans — 84 percent — think it's not. The relative contentment of Democrats as O'Malley prepares to leave office could help to explain why Gansler's message attacking the O'Malley-Brown administration has not secured more support in the primary.

"I like the way the state is, and I think we should continue this way," said Audrey Johns, a 57-year-old florist from Baltimore County who supports Brown. She called his resume "amazing."

Brown, who is endorsed by most of Maryland's Democratic establishment, praises the administration's record and portrays himself as the best candidate to continue moving the state forward. He is ahead by double-digit margins in the vote-rich Washington suburbs of Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Gansler, meanwhile, has pitched himself as an outsider. He has built a campaign around a need for change, Raabe noted, "but the Democratic base does not agree with that proposition. It's not a winning formula."

The attorney general's message resonates with Democrats who are not happy, including 59-year-old retiree Mark Thomas of Anne Arundel County.

"He's right. We are overtaxed," Thomas said. "I think Anthony Brown is a carbon copy of Martin O'Malley. We don't protect the middle class in this state. We pay for everything."

More than half of the voters who back Gansler say the state is headed in the wrong direction, compared with 13 percent of Brown supporters and 26 percent of Mizeur supporters.

While Mizeur's grass-roots campaign continues to run in third place, the poll suggests she has the most momentum, Raabe said. Nearly a quarter of Mizeur's supporters said they made up their minds to vote for her within the week before the poll was conducted — more than either of the other Democrats' supporters.

"She's a new fresh voice," said Richard Regan, a 56-year-old federal worker from Kensington in Montgomery County. Regan said he hopes her campaign pushes the state's Democrats to embrace more progressive ideas. "I want to endorse her candidacy because she stands for a lot of new, fresh things that the next generation will make a reality one day."

Mizeur, the only Democrat using the state's public financing system, has significantly less cash than her better-funded rivals and a more liberal platform that includes legalizing marijuana and boosting the state's minimum wage to $16.70 an hour.

The GOP contest remains more volatile than the Democratic race, Raabe said.

While only 15 percent of Democratic voters are undecided, 37 percent of Republicans have yet to make up their minds. An upset is "more plausible on the Republican side," Raabe said, because a sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort could tip the scales in the state's small pool of GOP primary voters. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland, 2-1.

Theodore Mariani of Lisbon in western Howard County is a firm supporter of Hogan. At 82, he's old enough to remember Hogan's congressman father, Larry Hogan Sr., who became the first Republican to announce he would cast what Mariani considers a gutsy vote for the impeachment of Richard Nixon.

"There's an old saying that the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree," Mariani said. He sees the younger Hogan as a "very centrist kind of fellow" who can hold his own against in the general election.

Pamela Berry of Callaway in St. Mary's County put her support behind Lollar, who she said is well-known and admired in Southern Maryland. Berry, 55, described herself as a cynic about politicians in general, but said she sees Lollar as being honest and "for the people."

"He says what he means and he stands behind what he says," she said.

George Andrews of Elkridge in Howard County sees Craig as the best bet to take on Democrats, saying Craig's experience and lengthy political resume swayed him months ago. "I had made my decision and I'm sticking with it," said Andrews, 76. "He's got the tools and the background to do the job."

Among the undecided is Eric Barger, a 48-year-old insurance underwriter from Hagerstown. He said he recently received a mailing from the Craig campaign and was impressed, but is still looking over the field. He is, however, crystal clear on what he wants in Maryland's next governor.

"I'll be looking for the exact opposite of what we have in O'Malley," Barger said.

ecox@baltsun.com

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michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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About this poll

Results are based on a survey of 499 likely Democratic primary voters and 501 likely Republican primary voters done by OpinionWorks of Annapolis for The Baltimore Sun. The survey was conducted by telephone, both land-based and cellular, by trained interviewers from May 31 to June 3. The margin of error is +/- 4.4 percentage points.