The war of words in the race for governor escalated Thursday as Republican Larry Hogan called his Democratic rival a liar and asked him to take down a series of "slanderous" advertisements.
"I've been around politics for a long time. I know it's a rough and tumble business," Hogan told reporters at his Annapolis headquarters. "This is the most deceitful, most dishonest campaign that I have ever witnessed in my entire life."
Hogan said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown's television spots mischaracterize his positions on abortion, gun control, tuition rates, taxes and pre-kindergarten.
"If he's willing to blatantly lie throughout this campaign, how can he be trusted in office?" Hogan asked.
When Hogan was asked if he was calling Brown a liar, he responded: "Yes, I am. It's really disgraceful."
It was the second time in a month Hogan has called for his better-financed opponent to pull ads off television, and Brown seemed just as unlikely to oblige this time.
"We stand by our ads 100 percent," Brown's campaign manager Justin Schall said. "If I was Larry Hogan, I would be afraid of the truth too."
Political analysts said Hogan's complaints could backfire in a couple of ways: By drawing attention to the ads Hogan despises, and by rallying Brown's supporters to the polls.
"Anthony Brown is a real likable guy," said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "Calling him a liar can just inflame his supporters, and that means higher turnout.
"It also makes [Hogan] look awfully thin-skinned. Politics, after all, is a combat sport."
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said the negativity slung by both candidates could turn off voters altogether.
That would further depress turnout in a race that saw historically low voter engagement in primaries, she said.
Republicans launched a new website — stopbrownslies.com — and asked voters to sign a petition demanding that Maryland news stations pull down the advertisements.
Democrats launched a page of their own — the similarly addressed stopbrownlies.com — to post old newspaper articles stating Hogan's positions.
Hogan ran through Brown's spots one by one, starting with one released Wednesday that says Hogan "wants to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest."
"It's an absolute lie," Hogan said. "It's not my position now. It's never been my position."
Democrats cited an article from the 1980s in which Hogan took credit for suggesting a measure that would ban abortion at Prince George's County hospitals unless the life of the mother was at stake. Democrats said the provision was written so broadly that victims of rape and incest would not be exempted.
Hogan said Thursday he does not support abortion but has said repeatedly that voters decided the issue in a 1992 referendum.
"I will do nothing as governor to take away women's rights," Hogan said, in what were some of his most pointed comments to date on the issue.
Hogan also clarified his position on pre-kindergarten. A Brown ad that says Hogan's opposition to universal pre-kindergarten and his support of "huge corporate giveaways" amounts to "putting corporations ahead of kids."
Hogan said the state cannot afford the pre-kindergarten expansion that is a signature issue of Brown's campaign, and the state should reduce its corporate tax rate from 8.25 percent to 6 percent, the rate in Virginia.
Legislative analysts said that cut would cost the state $300 million in lost revenues in the first year. Hogan said an increase in economic activity that would result from lower taxes would offset the lost revenue.
Hogan also said Brown was untruthful in tying him to the hefty tuition increases passed in the Ehrlich administration, in which Hogan served as appointments secretary.
Brown's campaign says Hogan appointed one of the key regents who approved increases that caused tuition to rise at some Maryland universities by more than 40 percent. But Hogan said Thursday he holds his own personal views.
"I have never supported one penny of tuition increases at any point in my life," Hogan said.
Hogan complained that his opposition to Maryland's sweeping new gun law was misrepresented in a Brown ad that says, "Hogan even opposed common-sense background checks."
The law bans the sale of military-style assault rifles and large magazines, and requires handgun buyers to get licenses. Hogan said opposing the law is not the same as opposing background checks, which he said he supports.
Democratic strategist Mike Morrill said Hogan's attempts to shame Brown over negative ads would work only if the general public also found them to be detestable.
"It's unusual because it hasn't worked in the past," Morrill said. "It can work if they're truly, truly offensive. They can't just be offensive to the candidate."
Hogan said Brown's ads are far out of bounds.
"I don't mind tough ads," he said. "But you can't just blatantly lie. … This goes beyond the pale. It's absolutely the worst thing I've ever seen."
Schall, Brown's campaign manager, said "Hogan is having problems with reality, so he's trying to distract and hide from his own words."