Baltimore has no favorite son or daughter in this year's gubernatorial race, so the Democratic contenders — all Washington-area residents — are stepping up their efforts to persuade city voters to adopt them.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler have opened campaign offices in Baltimore and have launched phone bank operations. Del. Heather R. Mizeur's lower-budget campaign is doing the same work out of private homes. All are regular visitors to the city.

"I don't see a lock for anyone right now," said Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who supports Gansler.

With a population that has dropped precipitously over the last half-century, Baltimore plays a reduced role in Maryland politics, but it remains a significant prize in a Democratic primary. The city is the third-largest jurisdiction in Maryland in terms of eligible Democratic voters, edging Baltimore County by a few thousand.

The state's largest city is not as much a factor in the Republican primary. Its roughly 30,000 GOP voters are outnumbered almost 10 to 1 by Democrats.

More than any time in recent years, Baltimore is up for grabs in the Democratic primary for governor. Gansler and Mizeur are Montgomery County residents who chose Prince Georgians as running mates. Brown, a Prince George's resident, recruited Howard County Executive Ken Ulman — a metropolitan Baltimore choice but a distant figure to some city voters.

The candidates need to give city voters highly specific, Baltimore-centered reasons to vote for them, said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at the Johns Hopkins University.

The stakes could be high, Crenson said.

"Since they're all from the Washington area, presumably they're dividing that vote while the Baltimore Democratic vote may provide the margin of victory for the winner," he said. "This is essentially unclaimed territory."

Mitchell thinks the key issues Baltimore voters want to hear about are schools, fighting crime and economic development in their neighborhoods.

"City residents want to see cranes" in places other than downtown, he said.

State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Democrat who represents Northwest Baltimore, said the lack of a Baltimore candidate is a real factor in the election. She said city voters have the perception that people from Montgomery look down on them, and they don't necessarily feel much affinity with Prince George's.

Gladden worries that what she sees as voter apathy now could carry through into the general election. Though she has endorsed Brown, she doesn't see any of the candidates stirring much excitement.

"A decent Republican can win because turnout's going to be terrible," she said. "I don't get a sense that any of these candidates are going to inspire turnout."

Other Democratic lawmakers are more optimistic about the party's prospects, and city activists appear to be engaged. Last week, a forum sponsored by the BEST Democratic Club for the party's three lieutenant governor candidates drew an overflow crowd to the Sign of the Times restaurant in East Baltimore.

The consensus: While it might have started out as a Brown-Gansler contest, it's now a lively three-way race.

Ashiah Parker of Sandtown-Winchester, who attended the forum, sees things to like about all three tickets. But she believes city Democrats are focused right now on General Assembly contests.

"At this point, the local races are the most interesting," she said.

Brown has the backing of most of Baltimore's political establishment — including Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. But he's also the closest thing to an incumbent in the race at a time when Baltimore has been experiencing a spike in homicides, and his opponents say the administration deserves some of the blame.

Brown calls the endorsements by city officials "a reflection of our past performance together and what we can accomplish in the future." He defends the O'Malley administration's record in the city, pointing to such accomplishments as a public-private partnership to expand Seagirt Marine Terminal and's plan's to build a giant warehouse with 1,000 jobs in Southeast Baltimore.