Emphasizing what he promised to be the theme of his bid, Cardin announced his candidacy in a Web video. He said that because technology changes the way we interact, the next attorney general should be focused on protecting citizens in the Internet age.
"We are living in a world that is complicated, and the challenges are going to be more and more complicated as we move along," Cardin said. "My plan is to be two steps ahead."
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Three other Democratic state lawmakers are expected to announce their campaigns this fall in what will be the first wide-open attorney general's race in eight years. No Republicans have publicly declared an intention to run, but state GOP leaders say a few people have privately sought support and will soon step forward.
Maryland has had only three attorneys general in the past three decades; two were former prosecutors and the other, J. Joseph Curran, was a former lieutenant governor. After running unopposed in 2010, the current attorney general, Douglas F. Gansler, announced he would not seek re-election and plans to run for governor.
Gansler's departure leaves a coveted statewide office up for grabs, and political observers said Cardin's statewide name recognition — thanks to his uncle, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin — could give him an early advantage.
As a delegate, Cardin made a name for himself in Annapolis with his work on campaign finance reform, election law and a law to criminalize online bullying. He also drew headlines in 2009 for persuading Baltimore police officers to aid his marriage proposal by staging a fake raid in the Inner Harbor that included a helicopter. Cardin ultimately repaid the city $300 for the stunt.
Though it is an elected post, the attorney general's office is designed to be a nonpartisan law firm for the state. It also provides its holder great leeway as an advocate for public policies. The attorney general acts as the lawyer to the governor and the state's legislative and judicial branches, defending the state, its laws and in some cases the state's top officials in court. The job also entails investigating crimes, prosecuting environmental violations and enforcing Maryland's consumer protection laws, among other duties.
Under Gansler, the attorney general created specific units to investigate gangs and gun trafficking, and he has used his position to advocate for same-sex marriage and against increased health care insurance premiums.
So far, the only politicians to express interest in the race serve in the legislature and would need to scale up their operations to create statewide campaigns.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh of Montgomery County is a commercial litigator and chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. He has the backing of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. The most recent campaign finance reports from January show Frosh ahead in the fundraising race with more than $390,000 in the bank.
Cardin, a general practice attorney, had more than $170,000 in the bank, leading the other two expected candidates, Del. C. William Frick of Montgomery County, who had about $60,000, and Del. Aisha N. Braveboy of Prince George's County, who reported a little more than $9,000.
Cardin said in an interview Monday that he believes cybersecurity is "the next frontier" for the attorney general. He said he planned to spend the next few months raising cash and developing his platform.
Frick, a civil litigator, said he would launch his campaign in the fall. He said he is focused on consumer protection and would bring "progressive" values to the job.
Braveboy, a private real estate attorney, said she, too, would launch her campaign in the fall when voters are more inclined to pay attention. She said she would bring an "independent" voice to the office and cited her opposition to the state's newly drawn congressional districts.