"To the extent that there is an anti-Rawlings-Blake vote, it will be spread among the people running against her," Norris said. "If I were the mayor, I would say, 'The more the merrier. Pile it on, guys.'"
Many of her opponents have adopted similar stances on key issues, such as promising to sharply lower property taxes to attract new residents and broaden the city's tax base. Landers, who has released the most detailed plan, speaks to supporters at length about the importance of lowering the tax. But Rolley, Stokes and Pugh espouse similar ideas.
Rawlings-Blake has created a task force to draft a 10-year plan to lower property taxes. She characterizes as "empty promises" any plans for an immediate drop.
Rolley, who has sought to rally the support of the city's tech community and draw young professionals to his Hampden campaign headquarters, said he is not intimidated by the crowded field.
"At the end of the day, if we do our job correctly, it doesn't matter if there are two or 20 candidates in the race," he said. "I stand out."
At the Butchers Hill gathering, as residents sipped white wine and sampled rolled flatbread sandwiches, many said Rolley had already caught their attention.
"I don't think [Rawlings-Blake] is bad, I just think Otis is our person," said Rob Steinberg, 50, who hosted a community gathering on the marble steps of the home he shares with his wife, Judi. "Otis is pretty exciting. What impresses me is he sees the need to rebuild the city."
Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at the Johns Hopkins University, said Rawlings-Blake is the clear front-runner, but the summer could bring surprises.
He pointed out that the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, which will turn downtown streets into a high-speed race course, will be run over Labor Day weekend, just days before the primary. Rawlings-Blake has committed $7.75 million for road construction costs for the race, which organizers say will draw international attention to the city and bring tens of millions of dollars in economic benefits.
"People are probably already miffed about the traffic backups," said Crenson. "Let's suppose something goes horribly wrong [with the race]. That could really do her some damage."
At a recent community meeting in Northwest Baltimore's Fallstaff neighborhood, residents voiced firm support for Rawlings-Blake and said they were inspired by her remarks.
"I will vote for her," said Flossie Lewis, 69. "From what she said tonight, that sometimes you have to make tough choices. She talks straight."
"I sense she is plugged in and well-informed. She is fully capable of running the city," said Stanley Fishkind, 67. "If there were an election tomorrow, I'd vote for her."
As the current officeholder, Rawlings-Blake has the advantage of appearing in the news media nearly every day.
Her opponents, meanwhile, must grapple with the mayor's advantage in name recognition — and draw voters' focus away from the summer's diversions.
"It's a hell of time to have a primary," said Norris.
"People are on vacation. They're at the beach. They're not paying attention."
Crenson said voters traditionally don't pay much attention to the race until late August, when political ads dominate television. And many voters don't study the candidates until after Labor Day.
"For the candidates, it's going to be a frenetic summer," he said.
"For the public, it's going to be a languid summer."