Republican Larry Hogan marveled at the giant stuffed animals inside an oversized claw game, a machine bigger than the back room in the campaign bus he rode into Ocean City Friday morning.
"These are a lot bigger than the ones I used as a kid," Hogan said, before turning to reporters to reinforce his point.
"We're trying to keep those guys in business."
As hundreds of Maryland politicos and government officials gathered in this beachfront resort town for an annual conference, Hogan invited reporters to Ocean City's iconic boardwalk to decry proposed regulations he said threaten the livelihood of arcades.
The Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, at the direction of a state law, has proposed new rules that would treat arcades more like gambling operations. The rules have sparked objections from arcade owners who say they are too onerous and will jeopardize their bottom-line.
Hogan said the rules go so far that if enacted, it would shut down the tradition of pinball machines, video games and – Hogan's personal favorite – claw games at one of Maryland's premier beach towns.
"It's not hyperbolic at all," Hogan said, adding the regulations reflect what he sees as an anti-business attitude in state government. "It highlights what's been going on for eight years. ... They're trying to take away all the fun on the boardwalk. It's absolutely absurd."
Hogan, who owns and Annapolis real-estate business, has focused his underdog campaign against Democrat Anthony Brown on pocketbook issues, relying heavily on rhetoric about Maryland's poor business climate and a series of tax and fee increases passed under the O'Malley-Brown administration.
On Friday, Hogan went a step further and blamed the entire economic recession on Gov. Martin O'Malley's policies and dismissed the role played by the meltdown of the housing market.
"You can't compare what happened in Maryland to what happened in the rest of the country," he said.
Hogan worked the boardwalk, past the condo building where he owns a place, past the bench memorializing his mother, Nora E. Hogan, shaking hands with potential voters.
"It's the last chance to save the state before it's too late," Hogan told one voter.
"You got my vote," said Pat McGainey, a Republican voter from Perry Hall who was vacationing in Ocean City and said he finds Brown, the current lieutenant governor, to be "a shadow" of O'Malley and said he disliked tax increases passed by O'Malley.
Brown holds a fundraising advantage and support among state Democrats who outnumber Republicans 2 to 1. He and his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, planned a separate event later Friday during the Maryland Association of Counties annual conference.