Democrat Douglas F. Gansler sharpened his public attacks against rival Anthony G. Brown, charging Wednesday that his chief political opponent "did absolutely nothing" during his tenure as lieutenant governor and failed at the two main tasks he was given.
During a radio interview on "The Marc Steiner Show," Gansler called the state's work to prepare for an influx of military workers "an unmitigated disaster" and again criticized Brown for the failed rollout of Maryland's health insurance website, two projects that Brown oversaw.
"We all know that the lieutenant governor did absolutely nothing for six or seven years until he started running for governor, and then he showed up at a few places," said Gansler, the state's attorney general.
Brown's campaign manager, Justin Schall, dismissed Gansler's accusations as fiction and said the campaign should be about disagreements on issues. "It shouldn't be about character assassination."
Gansler's remarks amplified an already-negative campaign between the top two Democrats in the race for governor. He released a new television ad Wednesday that again implicitly attacks the lieutenant governor for the failed health care rollout.
His pointed and personal critique of Brown on Wednesday followed a salvo Tuesday in which Brown characterized Gansler's suggestion that Brown's deployment to Iraq as a lawyer was not "a real job" as "reckless."
"As long as Doug continues to make false and reckless statements, they will aptly be described as reckless and irresponsible," Schall said.
The shift from criticism on issues to personal attacks marks what political experts predicted will be a resounding theme of the two months until the June 24 primary.
"They're trying to make the other guy unacceptable," said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College. "Gansler is saying Brown has no qualifications and no experience. And Brown is saying that Gansler is reckless and doesn't think before he acts — that he's dangerous."
On the radio, Gansler described the tone of the race as "ugly."
He refused to apologize for his comments earlier in the week about Brown's 2004 deployment to Baghdad for 10 months. At a Tech Council of Maryland forum Monday, he said, "There are ads about how he was a lawyer in Iraq — and that's all fine and good — but this is a real job. And we need to have somebody who actually has leadership experience, who has done projects."
On Wednesday, Gansler explained his comments on Steiner's show. "What I was being disparaging about was his civilian leadership here in Maryland," Gansler said. Later, in response to a caller, he said he would not apologize. "I said nothing disparaging to veterans," Gansler said.
Gansler went on to list the ways in which he supported veterans, including backing a lawsuit against a fringe group that protested at veterans' funerals. He also noted that his father was an undersecretary at the Defense Department.
A veterans political action group that has endorsed Brown said Gansler's refusal to apologize showed poor leadership.
"This is a very simple issue — Doug Gansler did something idiotic," said Jon Soltz, an Iraq War veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, which tries to elect veterans to public office.
"He made a mistake and all he had to say was that, 'I'm very sorry.'" Soltz said. "His refusal to do so shows complete arrogance."
Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said some recent polls suggest that Gansler had made inroads on the front-running Brown before the "flub" over veterans.
Kromer said the attorney general's attacks Wednesday show he's trying to pivot back to the health exchange issue. "Obviously, Gansler didn't like the conversation so he's trying to change it," she said.
Gansler has repeatedly attacked Brown in news releases over the failed $129 million state health exchange, which was the centerpiece of Maryland's implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The online insurance website's technical problems were so severe that the state decided to scrap the software in favor of a system that worked in Connecticut. Despite the website's problems, more than 313,000 Marylanders enrolled in health insurance through the exchange.
Gansler's 30-second television advertisement that will begin airing in Baltimore on Thursday highlights his work litigating against health insurance companies that denied patients coverage and spells out how badly Maryland's health exchange failed.
On the radio, Gansler also took aim at how well Brown oversaw preparing the state for the Base Realignment and Closure Process, known as BRAC. The process brought tens of thousands of military jobs to Maryland over the past few years through expansions at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County.
"BRAC ... was an unmitigated disaster in terms of infrastructure being built, roads, jobs," and a missed opportunity, Gansler said on the Steiner show. "Everyone who came here for BRAC is now going back to the states where they came from, and we haven't really benefited economically from that at all."
Whether Brown's leadership in the BRAC process was successful is far from clear-cut, but several participants from affected communities disagreed with Gansler's assessment that it was a total flop.
Michael Bennett, who has been mayor of Aberdeen since 2007, dismissed the statement as "campaign rhetoric." Bennett, a Democrat, has endorsed Brown, largely because of the lieutenant governor's handling of BRAC.
"He was absolutely engaged in that process," Bennett said. "He did a really excellent job."
Robert Leib, who retired in July as BRAC coordinator for two Republican administrations in Anne Arundel County, said Brown was "a strong advocate for Maryland" in dealings with the federal government about the expansion at Fort Meade, but less effective in getting the state to change its transportation priorities.
"Brown didn't botch it, but there was so much more that could have been done if Maryland had been more aggressive," Leib said.
Kromer, the political scientist, said the vitriolic exchanges between Brown and Gansler could open a path for the third candidate in the race, Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County. But so far, Mizeur's underfunded campaign hasn't found it, Kromer said.
"She's run a clean campaign. She hasn't made any real flubs. She just hasn't been able to gain that traction," Kromer said.