By Michael Dresser and Erin Cox
Democrat Anthony G. Brown and Republican Larry Hogan traded accusations of deception Tuesday in a heated debate with four weeks to go before the Nov. 4 election for governor.
The rivals clashed repeatedly over social issues and Maryland's economy in their first face-to-face encounter of the fall campaign.
Hogan attacked Brown relentlessly over what he called "40 consecutive tax increases" under the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley. Brown declared unequivocally that he would not raise taxes and accused Hogan of favoring a tax cut plan that would reward big corporations over families and small businesses.
The hourlong debate, sponsored by The Baltimore Sun and WJZ-TV, was taped in the morning and will be broadcast Tuesday night on Channel 13 and Maryland Public Television.
Afterward, each camp proclaimed their candidate the clear winner.
A confident Larry Hogan met reporters outside the television studio to do his own spin on how the debate went.
"I was pleased to see that six or seven times the lieutenant governor agreed with me on the need for change," Hogan said. "I'm not sure why he hasn't implemented all those changes over the past eight years, but I think his spin is starting to sound a lot like mine."
Brown did not make himself available for questions, but his running mate Ken Ulman said Brown came across as a confident and clear-headed leader with firm values. Ulman contrasted that with Hogan, whom he accused of hiding his record and opinions from voters.
"It's important to know what your governor stands for, because frankly, we don't what's going to happen over the next four years," Ulman said.
Neither candidate appeared to land a decisive blow against his opponent and neither visibly faltered under the other's criticism.
Hogan dismissed the value of Brown's promises on taxes.
"It's the complete opposite of his eight-year record of failure," Hogan said.
Brown vowed to pass targeted tax cuts that would go to the smaller companies that he said create two of every three jobs in the state.
"It starts with small entrepreneurial business," he said.
In response to a question, each man outlined an area in which he disagreed with the governor he served.
Hogan said he disagreed with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., over his decision to allow college tuitions to rise as much as 40 percent on his watch.
"I was never supportive of it," said Hogan, who served in Ehrlich's Cabinet as appointment secretary.
Brown said he disagreed with O'Malley over a proposal to reduce income tax exemptions and was happy when the General Assembly dropped the idea. He defended his record of loyalty to O'Malley, comparing the relationship to the confidential discussions of an executive officer in the Army with a company commander.
"I wasn't coming out of the door and throwing my governor under the bus," he said.
Brown and Hogan also clashed on education, The Republican proposed that the state "push the pause button" on the Common Core curriculum standards, which he described as a "complete disaster."
The Democrat, meanwhile, charged that Hogan's spending cut plans include a $450 million cut in school construction spending. Hogan said after the debate he didn't know what Brown was talking about.
Pre-kindergarten education, a major focus of Brown's TV ads criticizing Hogan, became a debate flash point.
Brown charged that Hogan opposes moving forward with an expansion of pre-K to all 4-year-olds. Hogan said he's a big proponent of the concept but doesn't think Maryland has the money to expand dramatically now. "I don't want to over-promise and under-deliver," Hogan said.
The issue of the environment brought a sharp exchange as Hogan promised to refocus the state's anti-pollution efforts away from farmers and Maryland property owners and toward pushing other states in the region to pay more for cleanup of the Susquehanna River and the silt behind the Conowingo Dam.
"We'll push back on the Conowingo to make sure that Pennsylvania and New York pay their fair share," he said.
Brown accused Hogan of shirking Maryland's traditional leadership role in protecting the Chesapeake Bay. He said Hogan was standing "upstream in the Susquehanna River pointing his finger at Pennsylvania and New York.
For Hogan, a businessman, the debate was an opportunity to introduce himself to the nearly half of Maryland voters who don't know much about him. A Goucher College poll released Tuesday found that 45 percent of voters had neither a favorable nor an unfavorable opinion of him.
The debate gave Brown an opportunity to step out from the shadows of Gov. Martin O'Malley and craft his own image. The same poll showed that nearly one-third of voters haven't formed a firm impression of the former Prince George's County lawmaker.
Despite a 2-1 Democratic advantage in voter registration, the race is believed to have tightened in recent weeks. The Cook Political Report moved the contest from its "Solid Democratic" to "Leans Democratic" last week. A Washington Post poll released Monday showed Brown ahead 47 percent to 38 percent.
The campaigns plan two more gubernatorial debates..
The Washington Post, WTOP Radio and NewsChannel 8 will co-sponsor the second, which will be taped at 10 a.m. Monday and televised at 8 p.m. on Channel 8, WJLA-TV in Washington and Channel 45, WBFF in Baltimore. Maryland Public Television will rebroadcast it next Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The third debate will be recorded at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18 and will be broadcast at 7 p.m. that night on MPT and co-sponsor WBAL-TV, Channel 11. That debate is being co-produced with WBOC in Salisbury and WHAG in Hagerstown.
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