Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown claimed victory in the Democratic nomination for governor Tuesday after early returns suggested a landslide win.
"It's about where we're going. It's about what next," Brown said in a victory speech as he led with three times as many votes as his closest competitor. He is positioned to become Maryland's first African-American chief executive.
In the Republican race, former Ehrlich administration official Larry Hogan accepted the GOP nomination after Harford County Executive David R. Craig, conceded defeat.
The primary victories set the stage for a spirited general election contest to succeed term-limited Gov. Martin O'Malley, who praised Brown as "a true American success story."
Despite being outnumbered in Maryland 2-1 by Democrats, Republicans hope that voters are fatigued by eight years of O'Malley and will elect a GOP governor instead.
Brown's win over Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur — both of whom conceded defeat shortly after 10 p.m. — was the result of a campaign promoted by more than $12 million and statewide name recognition.
Brown ran on a platform of building on O'Malley administration priorities. He promoted his plan to eventually expand half-day pre-K to all Maryland 4-year-olds and pitched himself as a competent leader who could make the state even better.
His stump speech relayed his biography as the son of immigrants, a Harvard graduate who attended the elite school on an Army ROTC scholarship and later served in Iraq. He invoked his background in his victory speech, telling supporters it was part of the American dream to seize opportunity.
"Together we campaigned with spirit, knowing each of us was part of something bigger," he said.
Hogan, in his victory speech, appealed to Gansler and Mizeur supporters to join his campaign, saying they had shown "they want change in our state."
He portrayed November's election as critical to reversing economic decline in Maryland. "This is a fight for Maryland's future, and it's a fight worth fighting," he said.
Brown's message resonated with Democratic voters, among whom O'Malley remains widely popular.
"I really wanted Anthony Brown because I like the direction Maryland has been going in so far," said Kandice Long, a 26-year-old teacher from Capitol Heights in Brown's home jurisdiction of Prince George's County. In early returns, Brown secured more than three-quarters of the vote there.
Brown has downplayed the historic nature of his campaign, and it wasn't until after Long cast her ballot that she learned he would be not only the first African-American governor in Maryland, but also only the third ever elected in the U.S. history.
"I didn't even realize he would be making history," Long said.
Gansler cast himself as a fighter taking on the state's Democratic establishment, and said he was dedicated to closing the state's achievement gap and improving the business climate.
In his concession speech, Gansler said he and Brown agreed on more than they disgreed.
"I'm a fighter," Gansler said. "We fell short today, not from a lack of hard work or dedication. … Tomorrow, after we shake off the dust, we each do what we can to help others build a better life here in Maryland. That's our mission, that's our cause and that's our fight."
Mizeur staked out the some of the most controversial positions in the campaign, vowing to legalize marijuana and use the tax revenue to pay for universal pre-K. She also pledged to tax millionaires, cut taxes for 90 percent of state residents, hike the minimum wage to $16.70 an hour and prohibit fracking. Her low-budget bid attracted a small but passionate following among progressive activists.
"There were a lot of skeptics who said I would never make it this far," Mizeur said in her concession speech. She said her campaign made progressive proposals part of mainstream debate in state politics, and she considered that a victory. "Your voices have been heard and your impact will be felt for years to come as part of Maryland's new ruling progressive class."
Democrats began jockeying for votes over a year ago, and since then spent more than $17.5 million on elaborate campaign networks, television ads and get-out-the-vote operations.
But with the primary scheduled in June for the first time since 1954 and what political experts described as widespread voter apathy, candidates struggled to motivate large numbers of primary voters to the polls.
The long march to Tuesday was marked by acrimony and accusations of dirty tricks on the Democratic side.
Brown deployed a political tracker to follower Gansler everywhere with a tripod and a video camera. The effort paid off for Brown's campaign when they taped a Gansler remark that implied Brown's military service wasn't "a real job," one of several gaffes that set back Gansler's campaign.
The two-term attorney general was dogged by controversy after controversy, first with his comments suggesting Brown was relying on his African-American heritage to get elected, then with allegations he ordered Maryland state troopers on his security detail to speed and drive on the shoulder.
Gansler denied the accusation. Not long after that, Gansler became national news when The Baltimore Sun published a photo of him at a raucous teen party where participants said there was underage drinking. Gansler's response that he had no "moral responsibility" to stop it triggered intense media converge and he called an hourlong press conference to explain himself.
Although Gansler had more cash in the bank than any other candidate 18 months ago, Brown started building and financing a network of establishment support that eventually included nearly every prominent Democrat in the state. Brown persuaded Howard County Executive Ken Ulman to abandon a bid for governor and instead join Brown's ticket, bringing more than $2 million with him.
The lieutenant governor, however, spent much of the fall and spring answering for the state's failed health insurance marketplace. Brown was charged with overseeing health care reform in Maryland, but the state's $120 million online insurance exchange crashed the day it launched and eventually had to be scrapped.
Mizeur, meanwhile, began building a grass-roots network on a shoestring budget. She was the first candidate in two decades to opt into the state's public financing system, and named as her running mate a prominent Prince George's County minister instrumental in getting same-sex marriage legalized in Maryland.
Brown offered voters the prospect of continuity – promising to build on the O'Malley record and build a better Maryland. His rivals called for a change of course, with Gansler tacking right and Mizeur veering left.
In contrast to the Democratic free-for-all, the Republican profile was a more sedate race, with relatively few television ads on the air.
Hogan ran strong in all the populous counties of central Maryland, while Craig did well in the rural counties of the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland. Del. Ron George and Charles County conservative activist Charles Lollar trailed far behind.
Together, the four Republican candidates had spent less than $2.3 million as of early June, less than one-seventh the cost of the Democratic primary campaigns. Policy disagreements were marginal as all four agreed on a need to improve Maryland's business climate and cut taxes, especially the stormwater cleanup fee they dubbed the "rain tax."
None of the four candidates enjoyed statewide name recognition when they entered the race. Even at the end, it appeared none of them had built as lofty a profile as former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the party's nominee in the past three elections.
Last June, Craig became the first to jump into the race. With a long political resume and a seemingly solid political base in Harford County, he quickly became the front-runner by default.
Suspected by staunch conservatives of being a closet moderate, Craig veered hard right early in his campaign, calling for the dismantling of some of Maryland's landmark environmental laws. He later unveiled an ambitious plan to phase out the state income tax, financing the change with drastic budgets cuts.
Craig was soon followed into the race by George, a two-term lawmaker and Annapolis jeweler, and Lollar, the only African-American in the GOP field and a favorite of tea party conservatives. Both he and George could not raise sufficient funds to mount credible statewide campaigns.
While the other three campaigned, Hogan bided his time, building on online network and attacking the O'Malley administration's economic policies through the conservative activist group he founded in 2011, Change Maryland.
Hogan formally jumped into the race in January and showed himself to be the superior fund-raiser in the race, becoming the only Republican candidate to reach the threshold to qualify for public financing. His spending as of early June came to $1.1 million – almost as much as his three rivals combined.
Unlike his opponents, Hogan avoided specific proposals, promising only that he would cut spending by eliminating waste and roll back as many of O'Malley's tax increases as he could.
That was enough for Carol Kemble, a retired teacher, who was voting at Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville.
"Everything has gone up so high. You cross the Bay Bridge, you have to pay a bigger toll. There needs to be a change in Annapolis," she said. "It wasn't a hard choice."
Kevin Buker, 45, of Libertytown in Frederick County also backed Hogan.
"I just like that he is pro-business, pro-getting rid of mounting tax hikes," said Buker, a full time student at Mount St. Mary's.
Buker said Hogan is the only Republican who has a chance to win against the Democrats in the general election because he has more bipartisan support than other candidates.
"I don't think we can stand another four years of O'Malley policy under Brown," Buker said.
At the end, some Republican voters still didn't have a clear idea of who was running. Stacey Robinson of Woodbine, arriving Tuesday to cast her vote at Glenwood Middle School in Howard County, said she had no clear favorite and showed up mostly because of her interest in local races.
"There's some interesting candidates, but I don't think they have a snowball's chance of winning in this state," she said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater, Colin Campbell, Tim Curtis, Danae King, Will Fesperman and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun