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Governor's race takes shape

Our view: Marylanders have a diverse group of candidates to examine, and some of them are even talking about the issues

3:35 PM EDT, July 17, 2013

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If you haven't been paying attention to Maryland's governor's race, now might be the time to start. Today's J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield marks a highlight of the early retail politicking phase before next June's party primaries — it was a rare opportunity to see all of the major candidates in the same place at the same time — but it also comes amid a number of more substantive developments in the contest to succeed Gov. Martin O'Malley. Earlier in the day, Del. Heather Mizeur made her campaign official. On Tuesday, Harford County Executive David Craig named his running mate, and last week, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler began rolling out a series of policy proposals — a rare nod toward the issues at this stage in the race.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown is considered by many to be the front-runner so far, based on the endorsements he has collected, his access to the O'Malley political machine and his partnership with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, his running mate. Mr. Brown has largely been playing an inside game so far, working to build support among unions and other key constituencies and to reduce Mr. Gansler's formidable fundraising advantage. He has outlined the general themes of his campaign — reducing the gap between the rich and the poor in economic opportunity, health care and education — but he has yet to provide details about how he plans to do that. His website touts the hiring of a key Obama campaign aide but does not include an "issues" section.

Mr. Gansler is seeking to set himself apart from the lieutenant governor by talking issues first and saving the formal announcement of his campaign for later. He's promising a tour of the state to discuss his plans and listen to voters before officially declaring that he's seeking the governor's seat in September. So far, he has highlighted ideas for reducing domestic violence (also an issue Mr. Brown has focused on) and increasing manufacturing in Maryland. Of particular note, he has suggested ideas for fostering the transformation of research in Maryland's labs and universities into product development and manufacturing. That has been a significant shortcoming in the state's economy. Mr. Gansler also tried to add a novel twist to the generally substance-free gathering at Tawes by using the occasion to discuss his ideas for restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

The leader so far in providing a specific platform, though, is Republican Del. Ron George of Annapolis. He has a 10-point agenda that includes some of what you would expect from a Republican candidate — such as a call for the repeal of Maryland's gas tax increase and storm water management fees, known by critics as the "rain tax" — but also some ideas you might not expect. For example, he notes the need to focus economic development efforts on Baltimore City and suggests the creation of a Baltimore Children's Zone, patterned on the acclaimed Harlem Children's Zone.

Mr. Craig has focused on some similar issues, including reducing taxes and controlling state spending, but he is also seeking to capitalize on his experience in education; he was a longtime teacher and principal before going into politics full-time. This week he made what appears to be an excellent pick for his running mate in Del. Jeannie Haddaway. She adds youth and gender balance to the ticket and has developed during her time in the General Assembly as an able spokeswoman for Republican principles.

Ms. Mizeur made the trek to Tawes, but she has vowed that events like that will not be the hallmark of her campaign. Her announcement email said that she plans to run her campaign as a series of service projects for herself and volunteers. "I've been warned that this will take too much time, draw too little press, keep me from fund-raising full time," she wrote, just before inserting a link for people to donate to her campaign. "But I believe that the best way to help Maryland is to lift up our communities and get our hands dirty." It's an interesting approach, and at the very least it ensures that something worthwhile will come from her candidacy. But the real test of the strategy will be whether it provides her with better ideas for solving the state's problems.

Other candidates may emerge, but already Marylanders have a wide range of choices across the political spectrum. Whether the state's voters will make the right choice will depend on how early and how deeply they engage in the process.