If Republican Larry Hogan wants to be Maryland's next governor, he needs to drive home his message of cutting taxes and creating jobs. And he needs to appear pleasant.
For his part, Democrat Anthony G. Brown needs to avoid unforced errors that could squander his advantages. And he can't underestimate his opponent.
This is among the advice offered by political pundits and campaign veterans, many of whom expect a lively race for governor when the campaign for the Nov. 4 election moves into higher gear in the coming weeks.
There is a bipartisan consensus that Hogan has a steeper climb to victory in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1. Since Republicans last captured the State House in 2002 under Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., demographic changes have further solidified a Democratic candidate's advantages.
"It's clearly Anthony's to lose," said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Nevertheless, most observers give Hogan an outside chance of pulling off an upset — if he strikes just the right balance, spends his limited funds wisely and catches a few breaks.
"Anthony Brown needs to not screw up and Larry Hogan has to do absolutely everything right," said Todd Eberly, professor of political science at St. Mary's College.
The two candidates are competing to succeed Gov. Martin O'Malley, Brown's political mentor and staunch supporter. The race comes after a primary in which low turnout showed a high level of apathy among voters in both parties. Hogan's campaign contends the Republican is within "striking distance" of Brown.
Winning over persuadable voters is only part of the job. Critical to each campaign's chances is the laborious task of getting the persuaded to the polls.
"Basic advice to each camp would be to turn out the base. They've got to turn out their core voters," said Parris N. Glendening, a political science professor before he won two races for governor as a Democrat in the 1990s.
Brown campaign manager Justin Schall, who guided the lieutenant governor to an easier-than-expected primary victory in a largely mistake-free campaign, said his candidate won't be caught napping.
"The only way to run is run hard and not take a single vote for granted," Schall said.
Brown's strategy will be to take the offensive and define his opponent.
"The No. 1 priority is to expose Larry Hogan as a conservative, knee-jerk Republican who doesn't support universal pre-K and doesn't support a woman's right to choose, doesn't support increasing the minimum wage but instead supports giving billion-dollar tax giveaways to the largest corporations," Schall said.
Schall said the Brown campaign will strip away Hogan's claims that he is not a politician by pointing to his record as a Republican candidate and activist long before his four-year stint as appointments secretary in the Ehrlich administration.
"We're talking about the Larry Hogan who's been a fixture in the Republican Party for the last 40 years," Schall said. "He's the definition of a career conservative political operative."
Steve Crim, Hogan's campaign manager, knows the barrage is coming.
"They're going to come after us because they have to define us," Crim said. "I have no doubt they already have something in the can to come after us."
Crim said the Republican strategy will be to introduce people to the "real Larry Hogan" and his message about jobs, taxes and the business climate
"We obviously have to get our message out to a broad segment of the population. We have to lay out a clear vision of what we want to accomplish," Crim said. "It's a humanization. It's showing people that Larry does care about everyone."
Crim said the campaign would appeal to voters who are eager for change after eight years under O'Malley.
"Do they want to continue a third term of Martin O'Malley?" Crim said.
To persuade voters to say no, Hogan will have to sell Marylanders on his vision of a state left economically crippled by O'Malley's fiscal policies, with businesses and individuals fleeing the state in droves to escape high taxes.
Glendening, who sees Maryland's economy as strong, says Brown should stand his ground.
"I wouldn't advise running away from that record. I wouldn't advise being defensive," he said. Glendening said that when Hogan calls for cutting taxes, Brown should demand that he explain which services should be cut.
Hogan's campaign faces a likely disadvantage in getting its message out because it will be limited to spending the $2.6 million he is receiving under the state's public financing system — plus whatever the state and county Republican central committees can raise. Brown raised about $12 million for his primary campaign. While he's unlikely to match that for the general election, Brown is expected to have at least twice as much money to spend as Hogan.
Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Republican nominee in 1994 and 1998 against Glendening, said Hogan shouldn't spend much of his time trying to raise party money. She said he needs to convince dispirited Republicans that he can win so they don't stay home.
"He will have enough money to do a pretty decent media campaign," Sauerbrey said. "I think Larry Hogan really needs to mobilize the grass roots now."
One key to that will be to keep social conservatives on board while he runs a campaign almost entirely focused on economic issues. Sauerbrey said she believes conservatives are smart enough to recognize this year's election is about the economy.
Richard Vatz, professor of political communication at Towson University and a Hogan supporter, said the Republican nominee needs to stay away from social issues.
"If he got into social issues, he'd energize people on the left," he said.
Vatz said his advice to Hogan would be: "Don't be ugly, don't be personal, but be unrelenting on the issues."
The Hogan campaign got off on the wrong foot, Vatz said, by releasing a video immediately after the June 24 primary mocking Brown as "the most incompetent man in Maryland."
"Nobody should be attacking Brown personally. He's a likable guy," Vatz said.