Democrat Anthony G. Brown and Republican Larry Hogan wound up their fiercely contested race for governor Monday with a final pitch for the votes of Marylanders.
Brown was the beneficiary of a rally at Baltimore's War Memorial on Monday afternoon where first lady Michelle Obama urged a crowd of Democrats to flock to the polls Tuesday to support the lieutenant governor.
Obama warned that the election would be close.
"We know this won't be easy, but let me tell you, nothing we have done has been easy," she said. "If you stay home tomorrow, we're just letting other folks decide the outcome for us."
Meanwhile, Hogan concluded his challenge to Democratic dominance in Maryland with a call to make the state a better place to do business.
"We're going to have a completely different attitude," he said at a news conference at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. "Maryland will be open for business on day one."
Hogan dismissed the importance of the first lady's visit. He said the fact that state Democrats have brought in so many prominent political figures — including President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton — shows Brown is worried and trying to use star power to draw voters.
"It shows a little desperation," Hogan said.
More than a million Marylanders are expected to join about 300,000 who cast ballots their during eight days of early voting.
In addition to the next governor, they will cast votes for state attorney general, comptroller, Maryland's eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives and all 188 members of the state legislature. Also on the ballot are county executive races and contests for other local offices.
In the marquee governor's race, a massive get-out-the-vote operation by Brown and fellow Democrats is aimed at holding off any surge of support for Hogan's tax-cutting message. Last week, despite Democrats' 2-1 voter registration advantage, the Cook Political Report moved the Maryland race from its "Leans Democratic" column to a "Toss Up.
Not everyone agrees the race is so close: Noted political forecaster Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight Politics gave Brown a 94 percent chance of winning,
Brown became the first Democrat to enter the contest when he announced his candidacy in May 2013. Hogan was the last Republican to jump in when he declared in January.
Both men won their party primaries in June by convincing margins. But Hogan had the less contentious race and more quickly united his party behind him.
Brown's campaign is offering voters a sense of continuity after eight years of liberal governance under Gov. Martin O'Malley, promising "a better Maryland for more Marylanders" without any sharp break from the recent past. Brown also has assured voters that he's the candidate who can get things done in Annapolis.
Hogan is promising that he will "Change Maryland," the name of the organization he founded that eventually morphed into his gubernatorial campaign. Without committing to specifics, he has vowed to roll back tax and fee increases adopted under O'Malley. He's delivered a consistent narrative of a state economy in crisis and a business climate that is driving employers away.
Though Hogan has pledged not to seek changes in Maryland's abortion rights and gun control laws, speakers at Brown's closing rally weren't buying those promises.
If Brown doesn't win, Obama warned, "We'll see more folks trying to interfere in women's private decisions about our bodies and our health care."
O'Malley joined U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin and other elected Democrats in praising Brown. But it was Obama who drew the loudest cheers during her roughly 13-minute speech urging Democrats to get family and friends to the polls to vote for Brown.
"Anthony has been fighting to invest in education. Nothing is more important than education. He's worked to invest in infrastructure because he wants to create jobs in every corner of this state," Obama said.
The first lady's endorsement carried weight with Kassie Boykin and her friend Kimberly Parker, who took time off from work Monday to hear why Obama believes in Brown's leadership.
"I am confident that her appearance speaks volumes because of her ethics," said Boykin of Northeast Baltimore. "She wouldn't stand with someone who she didn't believe deserved to be in the position."
Obama's speech had the intended effect on Scherrie Bethea of Woodlawn, who called the opportunity to hear the first lady "a once-in-a-lifetime experience." Though she voted early, Bethea said she would make sure to bring some elderly relatives to the polls.
Hogan, meanwhile, predicted a resounding victory.
"We're excited about the fact we're now projected to be a winner," he said, referring to his campaign's internal polls showing him ahead.