With Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's official entry into the gubernatorial race today, we may now have before us the complete field in both parties for what has the potential to be the most competitive contest to lead Maryland in a generation. Whether it lives up to that billing — and whether Marylanders get the choice they deserve in November, 2014 — may depend largely on the tone the candidates set during the next few months.

Mr. Gansler joins Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Del. Heather Mizeur as the three most prominent Democrats seeking their party's nomination. The field at this point looks unlikely to grow. On the Republican side, Harford County Executive David Craig, Del. Ron George and businessman Charles Lollar are vying for the nomination. The only remaining major addition still possible on the GOP side is Larry Hogan, who served in former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s cabinet.


(There are bound also to be some candidates who get little attention. Chief among them so far is Ralph Jaffe, a perennial candidate from Baltimore County whose platform in this and previous elections appears to consist of two prongs: 1) Reminding people he's running, and 2) Pledging not to accept any campaign contributions on the ground that they amount to legalized bribery — a noble stance but one that may explain the necessity of Prong 1.)

The reason this fall is so critical in determining the quality of the campaign is because the primary election is set for June 24, more than two months earlier than usual. That leaves little time between the April conclusion of the legislative session and the primary date. Not only will three of the six candidates be involved in the day-to-day operations of the session but four of the six will be prohibited by state law from raising campaign contributions during that time. The 10 weeks between the adjournment of the legislature and the election are likely to be a sprint of raising and spending money. Whether that exercise includes much substance is likely to be determined by what positions the candidates stake out now.

Mr. Gansler has been among the leading candidates so far in terms of talking issues. He spent the last few months touring the state and highlighting policy proposals on growing the manufacturing, fostering transparent government, reducing recidivism among ex-inmates and other issues. Some of his ideas (like increasing the minimum wage) were better than others (free tablet computers for inmates), but they nonetheless provide a good sense of where he would lead the state.

Delegate Mizeur has similarly staked out clear ground as the more uniformly progressive of the three major Democrats. She has proposed expanding election-day voter registration, exploring a "pay later" model for college tuition, mandating paid sick leave and enacting a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Mr. Brown's campaign remains largely platform free, but he has recently taken time from his busy schedule of announcing endorsements from the state's Democratic establishment to tout his record as lieutenant governor and to promise to start talking issues soon. We hope that when he does, he will take full advantage of his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who has a track record as one of the most innovative and forward-thinking local officials in Maryland today.

The Republican side of the campaign has been heavily issue-oriented, but it has taken a disappointing turn to the right in recent days.

Mr. Lollar began his campaign by announcing his intention to appeal to Democrats and independents, but it remains to be seen how successful the former head of the Maryland branch of the tea party group Americans for Prosperity will be. Delegate George this week jumped on the misinformed backlash to the Common Core standards to announce that he will be introducing a bill to repeal them. And Mr. Craig said last week that he will seek the repeal of his county's stormwater management fee, just months after he signed it into law. Not only has Mr. Craig adopted the "rain tax" rhetoric, but he went on to advocate for rolling back decades of protections for the Chesapeake Bay.

A Democrat can win in this state without much support outside of his or her party, but a Republican cannot. Maryland would benefit from a strongly contested general election, but we're not going to get one unless the Republican candidates stake out pragmatic, centrist positions that appeal to Republicans, independents and Democrats alike.