Seeking to emerge from the long shadow of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown will make official Friday what everyone in Maryland politics has known for a long time: He's running for governor.
Brown, 51, will announce his candidacy in his home county of Prince George's, where he started his political career. He enters the race with polls showing him as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in a state where his party enjoys a 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration.
The lieutenant governor will be the first major contender to formally announce his candidacy in the 2014 race. His campaign wants to get a jump on fundraising and building a grass-roots organization across the state.
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And with the 2014 primary scheduled for June rather than September, as in the past, Brown's entry isn't as early as it might seem, aides say.
The early start could involve risk, however, said John T. Willis, director of the Government and Public Policy Program at the University of Baltimore.
"It's just different when you're an announced candidate. It increases the burden and exposure," Willis said. "Opponents will seize on the slightest mistake that you might make."
For seven years, Brown has served as political partner and loyal No. 2 man to O'Malley, who has dominated Democratic politics in Maryland since the defeat of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend by Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the 2002 gubernatorial election.
Like most Maryland lieutenant governors, Brown has struggled to attract attention to his accomplishments in office. He has led the administration's efforts on health care, military base realignment and public-private partnerships, but recent polling indicates that about one-third of Maryland voters do not recognize his name.
Since the office of lieutenant governor was restored in Maryland in the 1970s, three of the previous six have tried to capture the State House and none has succeeded. But Brown has the solid support of a governor who remains popular with the voters Brown will need in a Democratic primary. Few prior lieutenant governors could make the same boast as they approached the end of their service.
Since taking office in 2006, O'Malley and Brown have presented a united front, with O'Malley frequently inviting his lieutenant to stand shoulder to shoulder at announcements, rallies and other public events.
The two struck a political bargain when O'Malley chose Brown as his running mate: Brown's unswerving loyalty in exchange for a meaningful role in the administration and O'Malley's wholehearted support. The lieutenant governor stuck with his boss when O'Malley supported Hillary Clinton over Brown's Harvard Law classmate Barack Obama in 2008.
Donald Norris, director of the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said O'Malley's support is one of the reasons Brown is the "odds-on favorite."
"He's going to have the governor's organization behind him, and that's a formidable organization," Norris said.
Nevertheless, Brown will also carry the burden of defending the record of the O'Malley administration, including several large tax increases and numerous smaller revenue-raising measures.
Larry Hogan, chairman of the Republican-oriented group Change Maryland, criticized Brown's candidacy, linking his record with the governor's. He put the cost to Maryland taxpayers of administration-backed tax increases at $20 billion by 2018.
"The prospect of another four years of these policies will have a devastating effect on our state economy, increasing taxpayer exodus and continuing the loss of businesses and jobs fleeing to other states," Hogan said.
Brown said the revenue raised under O'Malley has gone a long way toward stabilizing the state's finances. "I don't see the need in the foreseeable future to raise taxes in Maryland," he said.
Neither does Brown see any need to distance himself from O'Malley on other key issues, saying they share the same values. But Brown said he will bring a new emphasis to his own goals, including reducing disparities between rich and poor communities and bolstering technical education.
Other possible Democratic candidates include Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. Among the Republicans mentioned are Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Frederick County Commission President Blaine Young, Anne Arundel County Del. Ron George and 2012 U.S. Senate hopeful Dan Bongino.
It will be the first time since 1994 that both parties face the prospect of a closely contested primary, making it difficult to predict the eventual cost of the governor's race. The record was set in 2006, when O'Malley and Ehrlich together spent $35 million.