Analyzing the gubernatorial debate: Commentators react

Analyzing the gubernatorial debate: Commentators react

Photo above: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, WJZ anchor Vic Carter, Baltimore Sun editorial editor Andy Green, Larry Hogan Jr.

Here are some reactions to last night’s debate between Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Republican businessman Larry Hogan Jr. in the race for Maryland governor. Commentators include Blaine Taylor, Brian Griffiths, Barry Rascovar, Todd Eberly, Rick Vatz, Christopher Summers and Len Lazarick.

The fact that it was taped in the morning, with reporters allowed to watch it from a separate room meant that news sites and broadcast outlets should have issued “Spoiler alerts” with their stories throughout the day as they do in Olympics coverage when events are covered before they are actually aired.

The full debate, broken into segments, can be seen at WJZ/

Superb presentations, and we got to assess Sun editor

By Blaine Taylor

 Both candidates for Governor gave superb presentations of their differing points of view. The Lieutenant Governor mentioned his running mate often, Mr. Hogan mentioned his running mate perhaps once.

I also got a chance to see Andrew Green and take his measure as a person. This is important to voters as well, because as a Sunpapers editorial page editor, he not only controls what op-ed page submissions get used, but also whose letters to the editor get published, or not. Those are tremendous powers. As the late, great Hyman Pressman told me personally in his office in 1969, “The editors of the Sun are the new bosses, unelected by any voter, responsible to no voter.” The same is true of all the TV talking heads. We need to be wary of the expanding power of this unelected class of decision-makers.

I was surprised that not one word was said by either candidate about the biggest demonstrated incompetence in Maryland political history, that of the health care rollout flop. Maybe it’ll be discussed next time, and perhaps also we’ll learn about Mr. Hogan’s running mate. I hope so.

Blaine Taylor is an author who’s run for U.S. Senate and House as a Democrat.

Hogan WJZ debate

Larry Hogan Jr.

Hogan dominated the performance

By Brian Griffiths

Nearly a year ago the editors at Red Maryland, myself included, enthusiastically endorsed Larry Hogan for Governor. Never were we proven more right than in Hogan’s dominant debate performance today over Anthony Brown.

It was very clear that Larry Hogan was the only candidate who understood the issues that were facing our state. He understood our budget situation, our business climate, and the solutions that necessary in order to bring our state economy out of the doldrums that the O’Malley-Brown Administration brought upon us.

Anthony Brown’s debate performance showed us two things.

  • One, it proved again how Brown’s internal polling must show him down significantly to Larry Hogan. Most of Brown’s comments were attacks aimed at Hogan, and even most of those attacks have already been previously discredited.
  • Secondly, it showed why Brown’s handlers have tried to keep him out of the public eye. Anthony Brown is not somebody who is comfortable at public speaking, and certainly not comfortable talking without prepared remarks or notes. Brown is definitely not somebody who is capable of great oratory when speaking extemporaneously. Probably why Larry Hogan was willing to stay and take questions from the press after the debate and Anthony Brown left as soon as he could.

Larry Hogan was the only candidate who looked like a governor on stage and he won the debate, yet oddly there’s another significant story here as well.

Of all of the questions that were asked during the debate, not one of them was about Anthony Brown’s failed leadership on the Health Care Exchange. Not a single one. Vic Carter and Andy Green were quick to query Larry Hogan about the many broadsides launched at him by Brown and his surrogates, but not one single solitary question about Brown’s failed leadership on health care (or, for that matter, his failed leadership on the East Baltimore Development project).

Given the fact that both WJZ and the Baltimore Sun have had been accused on more than one occasion of media bias in favor of Brown, it is unconscionable that this question did not get asked. And because of that, it is really journalistic malpractice that Vic Carter and Andy Green didn’t ask Anthony Brown about his failed leadership on the exchanges.

Brian Griffiths is an editor and commentator at the partisan Red Maryland blog.

Is this the best we’ve got?

By Barry Rascovar

This is the best we’ve got?

It was a pretty thin performance by each candidate. The two focused on trashing one another and repeating way too often their trite attack lines. Neither presented a compelling argument for becoming governor. They all but proclaimed, “Don’t like what the other guy stands for? Then vote for me.”

Brown clearly bested Hogan on the environmental question. Hogan’s response on lowering the state’s crime rate was the better answer.

Each candidate exaggerated to the point of fabrication.

Biggest mistake: Brown’s “no new taxes” pledge. He will rue the day he said that. There’s no way he can govern for eight years without increasing the state’s revenue base.

Both overpromised when it came to reviving Maryland’s economy. No governor has the ability to do that, though they might nudge it along with wise tax policies.

Brown’s closing remarks were pathetically weak (the “American dream” shtick). Hogan’s closing was far superior in making the case for change.

But Brown didn’t mess up. He’s in the lead in a deeply blue state. The race remains his to lose.

Barry Rascovar has been reporting on Maryland politics for over 40 years.

Brown gestures WJZ debate

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Both men did well

By Todd Eberly

Anthony Brown and Larry Hogan each can walk away feeling good about how they did. Brown offered a strong opening statement that linked his 30 years of service to our military to his ongoing service to the people of Maryland. Hogan opened by going directly to the issue that appears to be the most important of the election — jobs and the economic health of the state.

It was a spirited debate and Brown and Hogan were clearly comfortable engaging with one another. Though Brown is the frontrunner in a heavily Democratic state, he had the toughest task. As the quasi-incumbent he had to defend Maryland’s economy while simultaneously acknowledging that people are worried and that things could be better. Offer too strong a defense and he alienates voters. Speak too much to the state’s troubled economy and he risks voters blaming him and his unpopular boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley.

That said, Brown walked that tightrope rather well. Unfortunately for him, every proposal he made for strengthening the economy opened a door for Hogan to ask “Where were you for the last eight years?” And Hogan never missed an opportunity to walk through the door.

Brown’s one gaffe came early in the debate when he made reference to Maryland’s “vibrant economy.” I suspect Hogan will be repeating that quote in an effort to portray Brown as out of touch. I thought Brown was strongest when explaining how his military training has influenced his public loyalty to O’Malley – you don’t pull the rug out from under your boss. Brown made clear that he is not Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and a few cute web ads questioning his competence will not change that.

Hogan was clearly at ease and comfortable. He stayed focused like a laser on pocketbook issues and never missed an opportunity to link Brown to O’Malley and then to the state’s troubled economy. Hogan was also clearly prepared for Brown’s attack lines. When Brown pointed to the numerous errors in Hogan’s cost savings plan, including a $100 million rounding error, Hogan replied that a rounding error was Brown’s claim that $10 billion in additional spending was actually an $8 billion spending cut – “that’s an $18 billion rounding error.”

When Brown attacked Hogan for supporting a cut to the state’s corporate tax rate as a “corporate giveaway” Hogan replied that Maryland was giving corporations away to Virginia and North Carolina. Those were very effective redirections. His worst moment came when he refused to point to something that Brown or O’Malley have done well.

Hogan was also effective when discussing the issues that usually hurt Republicans in Maryland. He did not call for across the board tax cuts or spending cuts – rather he promised to see what could be done. He chastised O’Malley and Brown for raiding environmental trust funds. He made clear that he won’t repeal the firearms bill, the minimum wage hike, or work to restrict the legality of abortion — then he went a step beyond Brown and advocated access to over the counter contraception. Hogan made clear that he is not Ellen Sauerbrey and $1 million in negative ads won’t change that.

Both men did well. Would I call it a tie? Yes, but in this case the tie helps Hogan. The Goucher College poll out today showed that fully half of Maryland voters didn’t know Hogan well enough to have an opinion of him. Think about that… in a heavily Democratic state Hogan is competitive with Brown even though half the voters don’t know much about him. That speaks to Brown’s troubles and Hogan’s opportunities. The millions that Brown and others have spent on negative ads to try and define Hogan clearly have not worked. With this debate, Hogan had an opportunity to define himself and he did that quite well. I suspect his numbers will go up.

One last thought. After the debate, Hogan stuck around and took questions from the press. Brown left. This continues a very bizarre strategy by the Brown campaign to shield Brown from anything but friendly and scripted events. I do not understand the strategy. If I were managing the campaign of a candidate who was a 30 year vet, who received a Bronze Star and a Legion of Merit, and who was the most engaged lieutenant governor in the state’s history I would have him out and about and accessible 24/7. And yet his campaign is acting as if it would be too risky to allow him to attend unscripted events. When a campaign acts like it doesn’t trust its own candidate, people start to notice. Team Brown really needs to reassess this strategy.

Todd Eberly is chair of the Department of Political Science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland

An excellent debate, won convincingly by Hogan

By Richard E. Vatz

This debate was exemplary of a good, substantive political clash. In contrast with the political campaign that has transpired thus far, tonight’s contest focused not on irrelevant, small bore issues and general nonsubstantive negative casting of opponents, but on critical issues such as Maryland tax policy, spending policy, business climate, gerrymandering and education. The only major issue ignored was the health care rollout and lack of legislative hearings on the matter, but either candidate could have brought that up.

The candidates were both prepared and civil, reasonably irritated only in a few stretches. The moderators were punctiliously fair, uninterested in making the debates about themselves. Take note, Candy Crowley and Brian Williams.

There were illuminating exchanges, such as Mr. Hogan’s unanswered accusations on the consecutive tax increases. Fiscal irresponsibility of the O’Malley Administration was opposed in absentia by Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Mr. Hogan was able to point out that Lt. Gov. Brown’s charges regarding Hogan’s purported tuition hikes were indeed without basis and that he has not opposed pre-K education (which is another trick to get government involved ever earlier in our lives) but merely wants to wait until it is clear we can afford it. Moreover, the tone of the campaign has not been lowered equally by the candidates: Mr. Hogan made a wrong turn on calling Lt. Gov. Brown “the most incompetent man in Maryland,” but Brown’s repeated ads depicting Hogan as “dangerous,” “radical” and someone who wants to “take Maryland backward” are beyond the pale.

Lt. Gov. Brown was the smoother stylemeister tonight, and Mr. Hogan was the ungainly street fighter, but where they clashed (not everywhere), Hogan bested Brown repeatedly.

Brown wants to solve a myriad of problems, including high taxes, loss of businesses, loss of Marylanders, gerrymandering, but every time Hogan asked why Brown allowed these problems to exist and worsen in the O’Malley Administration, Brown had no answer. The devastating message: you want to solve problems you created.

Immigration? Both care for the children, but Brown has no concern that allowing them to stay in the U.S. and particularly in Maryland will create a precedent that will lead to an unending commerce of illegal immigrants who will then become legal citizens.

Message of debate: if you are happy with the economic and social direction of the state, vote Brown; if not, vote Hogan.

Overall: Hogan wins substance; Brown wins elocution.

A Hogan debate victory going away.

Richard E. Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University and is author of “The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion” (Kendall Hunt, 2013)

Both overstated “facts” but there was no clear winner

By Len Lazarick

I wanted to yell at the TV when each of the candidates overstated “facts,” dropping qualifiers and nuance. There were numerous examples, such as when Brown said Maryland “leads the nation in college affordability.”

What happened is Maryland went from being one of the least affordable states to the middle of pack. The O’Malley-Brown administration accomplished that by keeping a lid on tuition while other states were raising tuition during the recession.

Then there were Hogan’s repeated references to “40 consecutive tax hikes.” Having founded the group that most promoted this number, Hogan has dropped the inclusion of “fees” on such things as birth certificates, death certificates and professional licenses that make up some of those 40 “hikes.”

Brown will regret saying “We will not raise taxes,” a flat no-new-taxes pledge that replaced his more ambiguous “I don’t foresee the need to raise taxes.”

Neither candidate was really smooth, which may be a plus for some persuadable voters.

Hooray, that they both agreed on a independent commission for redistricting and drawing congressional lines. But as Hogan pointed out, where was Brown in 2011 when the governor’s advisory committee was creating the grotesque congressional districts we have now.

And when Brown said, “Debates aren’t about the past, they’re about the future,” he disregarded the part of the hiring process in which past performance is the best predictor of future achievement. “He doesn’t want to talk about his eight year record of failure,” said Hogan. Actually, Brown, like any good candidate on a job interview, is happy to talk about successes, just not about failures.

This debate, like so many, had no clear winner or loser. Brown held his own, with no serious mistakes, other than the tax pledge which will only hurt down the road if he is elected. Hogan didn’t have a major stumble, though he seemed to repeat “there you go again,” a little too much, a Ronald Reagan rhetorical device which should be used sparingly.

The candidates will be back again next Monday and the following Saturday for their second and third debates.

Len Lazarick is editor and publisher of

Distractions from Brown

It appears that the Brown campaign wants to distract from the broader issues – which are a stalled Maryland economy, rising unemployment, and once again the return of structural deficits for which the O’Malley/Brown administration said they would fix years ago with their record tax increases.

–Christopher Summers,

President, Maryland Public Policy Institute



  1. Al

    Candidate Brown’s ineptitude surfaced repeatedly .

  2. Al

    blind leading the blind = democrats !

  3. Post

    I like the no new tax pledge. All the taxes instituted by the past administration increase automatically without a vote….then there’s always ” it’s a fee not a tax” line.

  4. RED

    Marylanders will follow the pied piper, right into the water with all of the other Polictical Rats. Do democrates really want the best Governor or do they just have no desire for independent thinking. Really, Brown is a leader? On the one initiative that he was responsible, for, Healthcare, he failed miserably, which cost over 100 million dollars and then we had to enlist the provider for the state of CT. God forbid, we vote for a candiate, based on Merit… Electing sub par politicians in office is the reason why the state rates so low. Love the Rain Tax, too. As soon as my kids are in College, I’ll move to a more business friendly state. Good Crabcakes, Go ‘O’s!

  5. william keller

    vic carter what a has been the only way to tell where Hogan stands is give him a chance to govern really couldn’t be any worse than now

  6. william keller

    honestly brown looked like a stringless marionette. always talking about the past most people I know have let the past flow under the bridge. as I see it all Marylander middle class people have to do is look at their paychecks look at the gas pump property taxes and taxes in general. that should open their eyes maybe its time for change

  7. Yuquiyu

    Are you kidding me? Is this the best that we get on critiques? Anthony Brown seemed quite uncomfortable and did not want to explain much about the past 8 years and record 40+taxes and of course not a peep on Healthcare. He is obviously riding on the coat tails of skin color to win. But the most important joke was his promise of NO new taxes. Really, with his proposal where is the money coming from? Well, more fees and whatever they will label it, but the tax addiction that they have doesn’t get cured easily. Larry Hogan was by far the better of the two, but I wish he would have raised the albatroz of Obamacare in MD. Over and over and over. A missed opportunity because many were waiting to hear on this.

  8. DanDee

    How can you vote for someone that says “this isn’t about the past” when he’s to blame for the last 8 years of failed policies that have lead us to the very mess that we’re in?? Brown spends more time making up false accusations against Hogan than he spends on creating his own solutions. Oh and he calls Hogan crazy, but wants to agree on many of his ideas? Brown is a bag of hot air. He repeats the same things over and over like a puppet. A better Maryland for more Marylanders? This man doesn’t have a clue. If he actually did a good job at his current position, he wouldn’t have to try so hard!!!!

    • DanDee

      Also, Hogan seems like he genuinely CARES about Maryland. Brown only cares about getting elected. This is very easy to decipher.

    • Balmy Balmer

      Failed policies? Maybe you don’t like good schools or is a clean environment a problem?

      • Fogey0

        How about oppressive taxes and fees, magnet state for illegal aliens, businesses leaving in droves. I could go on but you are obviously beyond hope.

        • Balmy Balmer

          Which businesses? I call BS!

          • Fogey0

            Call whatever you like. Here are the facts:
            Like California, Maryland has one of the worst business tax climates in the country (42nd out of the 50 states). That explains why nearly 3,500 businesses have either left Maryland or closed up shop since 2006. Only one Fortune 100 company is headquartered in the state.
            Facts are not BS!

          • Balmy Balmer

            Maryland has the richest citizens in the nation, I’t’s tough to improve against Alabama and West Virginia where wages are poverty level.

  9. Mike

    Brown was terrible, which virtually guarantees him a win. Maryland deserves what it gets.

  10. abby_adams

    IMHO as an average native MD taxpayer Hogan was the clear winner in this debate. It was rather annoying when the moderators seemed to give the last redirect response to Brown. If we choose a governor on the basis of appearance, then Brown clearly gets the GQ vote. If we choose on which candidate presented a more reasonable platform to solving MD’s economic issues, Hogan has my vote. Overall, if Brown wins taxes will rise. It’s a given since he can place the blame on Annapolis legislators. If Hogan wins, the Democrats under the thumb of Miller & Busch will attempt to stifle changes that could help struggling MD taxpayers see some relief. In the end, I had the same reaction as Len. Screaming at the tv provided the only relief, for now.

  11. Sherry Nicholson

    I’ll bet that many people are now wishing they’d voted for Heather Mizeur in the primary! We can still write her name in on the ballot.

  12. KatieSilverSpring

    Once again Barry Rascovar does not even try to cover his support for the LtGov Brown: “It was a pretty thin performance by each candidate.” You can’t trash Hogan, like you would prefer to do, so you just bring him down to Brown’s level and stop?

  13. MD observer

    Brown seemed like many of his answers came from material he’d memorized. Perhaps that’s why he’s not as visible as Hogan (because he’s debate prepping.)

    Hogan comported himself well (far less constrained); and struck me as one who is fully comfortable with his platform.

    Overall, Brown did OK in spite of his weaker (sometimes defensive) material. Hogan did well but failed to execute numerous counter-punches that would have led to a clear win in round one.

  14. WordsMatter00

    The Democrat Party is a crime against Maryland and America.

  15. Jim

    Wow. “the only candidate who looked like a governor “. And what does that mean? Rodrick’s “Big Daddy”? There have been 36 female governors and two African-American governors and lots and lots of white males. Try closing your eyes for the next 8 years, Brian.

    • LegalizeFreedom

      From Brian Griffiths’ statement, I did not get the impression he meant anything regarding the candidates sex or race, rather, there are certain traits, values, ways of responding, ability to provide solutions, etc. that a governor usually contains and Mr. Griffiths felt that Hogan had them, while Brown did not based on his opinion of this debate. I think there’s more to take away from him commentary than potentially misunderstanding one statement.

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