Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Republican candidate Larry Hogan spar during the first gubernatorial debate, moderated by WJZ anchor Vic Carter, and Baltimore Sun Editorial Page Editor Andrew A. Green.
Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Republican candidate Larry Hogan spar during the first gubernatorial debate, moderated by WJZ anchor Vic Carter, and Baltimore Sun Editorial Page Editor Andrew A. Green. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Surrounded by a dozen other Democrats, Anthony G. Brown summoned the news media Wednesday to once again claim that his opponent wants to cut nearly half a billion dollars in state school construction funding.

Republican Larry Hogan has never said that.

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Hogan, meanwhile, issued a statement Wednesday charging that Brown wants to wipe out funding for school breakfasts. Brown has never said that.

False statements and distortions have marked both sides in Maryland's hotly contested race for governor, though some observers say the Brown campaign has done more of it as it tries to portray Hogan as "dangerous" for Maryland.

Brown's claim that Hogan would cut $450 million in school construction funds is "as close to a lie as you can get," said Todd Eberly, political science professor and coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary's College.

Brown has held several news conferences across the state to predict dire effects if his rival were to cut $450 million from the state's school construction budget. It's a move that would be so drastic it would eliminate more than a year's worth of such funding in one fell swoop.

In fact, Hogan has repeatedly pledged to make no cuts to the school construction money. But that hasn't stopped Brown from repeating the charge.

The issue arose after The Baltimore Sun scrutinized Hogan's written plan to eliminate $1.75 billion in wasteful spending as identified by state auditors in various reports. The Hogan campaign's tally mistakenly included the $450 million in school construction money. Brown's camp has seized on the error as evidence the Republican wants to eliminate the funding, which Eberly says is ridiculous.

"You can criticize [Hogan] for having a flawed report, but that he wants to cut school construction funding? It's made up," Eberly said.

Brown stands by his assertions. "His numbers rely on a $450 million cut to school construction," Brown told reporters who asked Wednesday why he keeps repeating the claim. "If that's not what Larry Hogan means, he ought to put out exactly what he means."

Brown has also drawn criticism for television advertisements and political mailings that say Hogan wants to reverse Maryland's protection of abortion, claims based on comments Hogan made in the 1980s. Hogan had disavowed that position by the early 1990s, during a campaign for Congress. In this year's race for governor, Hogan has repeatedly said he would not seek changes to Maryland's abortion-rights law and would not seek to restrict women's access to birth control.

Donald F. Norris, chair of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Brown's charge on the abortion issue goes too far.

"That is not Hogan's position," Norris said. "It was Hogan's position at one time."

But neither campaign, Norris said, has a monopoly on deception. "Both sides are guilty," he said.

On Wednesday, Hogan asserted that Brown's plan for government efficiency includes "a proposal for eliminating state funding for school breakfasts."

Brown's plan mentions in passing that Florida saved money by conducting an efficiency study. While Florida's review included a suggestion to eliminate funding for school breakfasts, Brown's plan neither suggests adopting Florida's plan nor mentions cutting school meals.

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Nevertheless, Hogan's campaign contended in a news release, "Anthony Brown thinks that Florida's draconian cuts provide a road map for Maryland."

Asked about the assertion, Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitsky said it was a reasonable conclusion for the campaign to draw about Brown's proposal. "If he looks at our plan and its components, I think it's perfectly fair to look at his," Dubitsky said.

Hogan has also faced criticism for reversing stands he took during the Republican primary campaign.

During the primary, Hogan said in response to a Baltimore Sun questionnaire that he would have voted against the minimum wage increase passed by the General Assembly this year. But this month, he told reporters he supported the law. And at a Baltimore Sun forum during the primary, Hogan said he did not support Maryland's tough new gun law because it "went too far." During a debate this month, he said "it did not go far enough." Hogan has waved off suggestions that he has flip-flopped.

Critics also point out Hogan has bent the truth in his attempt to portray Maryland's economic climate as disastrous.

Hogan claimed repeatedly that 10 of Maryland's Fortune 500 companies left the state during the first seven years of the O'Malley-Brown administration. In fact, Maryland lost one of its five Fortune 500 companies during that time. It was acquired by an out-of-state firm.

Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at the Johns Hopkins University, said overall he thinks Hogan has been "over the top" in his misuse of economic statistics. But Crenson said it's time for Brown to drop his claim that Hogan would cut $450 million from school construction.

"Brown, if he wants to keep attacking along this line, ought to attack the mistake instead of the alleged cut in school construction funds," Crenson said.

The tenor of the campaign has turned off some Maryland voters.

"Given the Democrats' dominance in Maryland, it would seem like they would have been able to have taken the high road, to have taken a positive note, and not have to be in a cutthroat campaign," said David Kinne, a 68-year-old Democrat from Baltimore City. "I'll vote for Brown, but I'm disappointed in him."

Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1 in Maryland, yet a recent Baltimore Sun poll shows the race closer than expected. Brown holds a modest 7-point lead, and a quarter of his supporters said they could change their minds.

"When you get to the point when your ads are nothing but negative, it tells me that you have no substance, that you have nothing to support your own candidacy," said Joe Wagner, a 67-year-old Democrat from Howard County.

Wagner hasn't decided yet whom he'll support.

"Whoever has the most negative campaign, I'm crossing them out. I'm not voting for them," he said.

Such distortions and hyperbole, experts said, are strategic, meant to wake up late-deciding voters who have not been paying attention and encourage supporters to show up on Election Day.

The candidates are "trying to find some way to break through the campaign clutter," said Lara Brown, director of the graduate political management program at George Washington University.

"Part of what they're trying to do is scare voters to the polls, and make them believe that this is one of the most important votes that they can take."

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