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The Hogan agenda, according to Brown [Editorial]

Last week, the Maryland Democratic Party crowed about a poll showing Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown with a 14-point lead over Republican Larry Hogan. The Hogan campaign, the state GOP and others -- including the American Association of Public Opinion Research -- have questioned that poll's methodology, but the biggest reason to doubt its veracity is the behavior of the Brown camp itself. If Mr. Brown and his fellow Democrats think that poll is accurate, they're sure not acting like it. Since last week, Mr. Brown and the state Democratic Party have only intensified their attacks on Mr. Hogan — some of them fair game, some not. That suggests this race is still competitive. But unless Mr. Hogan finds a more effective way to respond, it won't be for long.

The latest from the Brown camp is an ad called "Dangerous," alleging in no uncertain terms that Mr. Hogan as governor would be just that. It focuses on two issues — abortion and gun control — that seem tailor made to remind Democratic voters who might find Mr. Hogan's economic message appealing that there's a reason they don't usually vote for Republicans.

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On gun control, the ad's claims about Mr. Hogan's positions are solidly documented. It says he was opposed to "a law that keeps guns off our streets," opposed "common sense" background checks and bans on high capacity magazine clips and assault weapons. All those are elements of the 2013 gun control legislation championed by Governor O'Malley, and Mr. Hogan has indicated, on The Sun's endorsement questionnaire and elsewhere, that he opposed that bill. Mr. Hogan has also said that he would not seek to repeal it, if he is elected, and he was clearly more moderate on gun control than any of the other Republicans in this year's gubernatorial election.

The abortion claims in the ad are a little dicier, if only for the use of present tense. The ad says Mr. Hogan "opposes a woman's right to choose" and "wants to ban abortions even in cases of rape or incest." The primary evidence cited by the Brown campaign is an article from the Prince George's Journal in 1980 in which Mr. Hogan took credit for suggesting policies adopted by his father, Larry Hogan Sr., who was then Prince George's County executive and issued an order banning abortions at county hospitals except in cases where the mother's life was at risk. The Brown camp also notes a Washington Post article from this year saying the younger Mr. Hogan supported a "human life amendment" to the constitution during a 1981 run for office.

We know, then, what Mr. Hogan's views on abortion were three decades ago, but what are they today? He has said little, deflecting questions about the issue by saying the people of Maryland made their views on abortion clear in a 1992 referendum and that he would respect the will of the voters.

The ad goes a bit too far in claiming that Mr. Hogan has "a dangerous Republican agenda" in the context of abortion and gun control in that he has made clear that neither one of those issues is part of his agenda at all. But that doesn't get Mr. Hogan totally off the hook where they are concerned. The next governor will have to make administrative decisions in terms of how Maryland's gun control law is carried out, for example. And events have a way of intervening. An assault weapons ban was not on Governor O'Malley's agenda until the Sandy Hook shootings of 2012, nor was a revamp of abortion clinic regulations until the tragic case of a botched abortion that took place partly in New Jersey and partly in Maryland. But voters knew his basic stances on gun control and abortion and could have some sense of how he would handle such issues as they came up. Just because Mr. Hogan doesn't want to talk about them doesn't mean they aren't fair game for the Brown camp.

Mr. Hogan's entire platform, in so far as he has described it, is to cut spending and taxes and to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses — and he hasn't even been particularly specific about any of that. Granted, we agree that issues of taxes, spending and Maryland's economic competitiveness are crucial and deserve to be front and center in this campaign. But there's more to being governor than that. What Mr. Hogan needs to realize here is that if he doesn't clearly define his positions on the wide range of issues that matter to Marylanders, the Brown campaign is going to do it for him, and in the most unflattering terms possible.

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

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