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On to November [Editorial]

Despite a spirited three-way contest, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown appears on his way to a convincing victory in the Maryland Democratic gubernatorial primary. On the Republican side, businessman and former state cabinet secretary Larry Hogan also emerged from a crowded field with a solid win. Though the primary appears to have drawn strikingly few voters to the polls — perhaps as a result of the unusually early election date — the result has set the state up for what promises to be a compelling general election contest during the next few months.

Mr. Brown declared victory shortly after 10 p.m. with thanks for the volunteers who knocked on doors and mounted phone banks for him. But he has a lot more than grassroots support on his side as he heads into the general election. He has been the front-runner since he entered the race a year ago, and he retains substantial advantages: the support of the vast majority of Maryland's Democrats (including, crucially, his boss, Gov. Martin O'Malley), plus the endorsement of most major labor unions in the state. He has demonstrated a prodigious ability to raise money, and the generally positive campaign he ran — he made a few digs at Mr. Gansler but was generally quite complimentary of Ms. Mizeur — should leave him with little trouble in consolidating Maryland's Democrats behind him.

Being closely aligned with the O'Malley legacy was good for Mr. Brown in the primary, in which 59 percent of likely Democratic voters thought the state was headed in the right direction, according to the latest Sun poll. But that will likely be less true in a general election, when Republicans, independents and less partisan Democrats are thrown into the mix. Mr. Brown has been smart to emphasize economic development and business friendliness in his campaign, issues for which his boss is not well known, but he will need to enumerate for voters more specifically how his approach would differ from Mr. O'Malley's. He would also do well to adopt some of the transparency and government reform proposals championed by his primary opponents to dispel the notion that electing him amounts to business as usual. (Or, as the Republicans might say, anti-business, as usual.)

Ms. Mizeur was in many respects the most intersting story of the primary. She performed far above what one might have expected for a previously little known and under-funded state delegate from Montgomery County. There was a time not long ago when predictions among members of Maryland's chattering class that she might break 10 percent sounded bold. But her relentlessly issue-oriented campaign clearly tapped into the passion of the Maryland Democratic Party's progressive wing. In a low-turnout election, they voted, and she was not far behind the better known and better funded Mr. Gansler in the early returns.

Mr. Gansler, meanwhile, appeared to hold the distinction of having spent the most ever in a losing primary election in Maryland. Beset by scandals early on in the campaign, he found himself playing catch-up to a candidate with a wealth of institutional advantages. He sought to overcome that gap by attacking the front-runner, and eventually Ms. Mizeur to some extent as well.

In doing so, however, he came across as not only negative but ungracious. He has said that Mr. Brown was running solely on racial appeal and has never had a real job. He has belittled Ms. Mizeur's lack of a college degree. And when asked during a radio debate what ideas of his opponents' he might seek to implement if elected, his answer was none. Insulting representatives of perhaps the two most crucial constituencies in Maryland Democratic politics — African-Americans and women — appears not to have been the wisest strategy.

With Mr. Hogan as the Republican nominee, expect the GOP to present more of an obstacle than usual to the Democrat, despite the 2-1 advantage that party holds in voter registration. Mr. Hogan's single-minded focus on business and economic development coupled with his decidedly moderate social views would deny Democrats the opportunity to label him as an extremist and instead force them to debate on his terms. His victory speech sounded the same theme he has been voicing for the last few years through his Change Maryland organization, that the tax and spending policies of the O’Malley administration have driven businesses and residents out of the state and crippled Maryland’s economy. Running against the governor’s partner for the last eight years will make it easy to continue in the same vein. His challenge before the general election will be to flesh out his views on other topics — environmental or educational policy, for instance — on which he has said little so far.

Come what may, this primary season has set up an interesting contest in the general election. Let's hope Maryland voters wake up and pay attention.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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