Gansler's attack site — didanthonybrowncomecleantoday.com — keeps a running clock on how long it will take for Brown to rewrite a portion of his campaign website that says Brown "positioned Maryland as the national leader" on health care reform. Brown's attack site — factcheckmd.com — rebuts claims that Gansler makes at public events about statistics and policy ideas.
Gansler has cast himself both as a fighter and an underdog, and his ads broadcast messages his campaign has been sending for months.
In his recently released spots, Gansler calls health care "a right," and faults the current state administration for the "mess" of a health exchange, whose rollout was among the worst in the country.
"And as governor, I'll deliver health care reform to the people of Maryland, no excuses," Gansler says in one ad.
Gansler doesn't mention that Brown was in charge of implementing health reform in the state, but his strategists are poised to make the point for him.
"The lieutenant governor is going to be held accountable for a record of failure, and the health care exchange is a dramatic, real-time example of that," said Gansler's strategist, Bill Knapp. "We're going to make it clear to voters that he was in charge of it, he did nothing to fix it, he dropped the ball, he's had no accountably, and no transparency."
In response, Brown's campaign pulled out one of its highest-profile allies, 2012 Obama for America campaign manager Jim Messina, to defend Brown to the media in light of Gansler's attacks.
In a statement released to reporters this week, Messina said, "Taking a page out of the Republican playbook, Doug Gansler has made false attacks and tried to tear down Obamacare, rather than working to find solutions. While Doug Gansler sat on the sidelines, Anthony Brown took on the challenges of Maryland's health exchange and today more than 313,000 Marylanders now have access to quality, affordable health care. True leadership is finding solutions, and that is Anthony Brown's record."
Gansler and Brown are not the only two candidates to snipe at each other. Mizeur has criticized Brown's policies regarding women as "lip service" and, in the legislature, rebuked the O'Malley-Brown administration for not providing more transparency on how much the state has spent on its health exchange website.
On Monday, two Republican candidates for governor, Del. Ron George and Harford County Executive David R. Craig, held a joint event to offer their own criticism of Brown on the health exchange. Republicans have clashed among themselves over who should take credit for economic ideas, but the tone of the GOP primary contest is markedly different.
"They're really going at it on the other side," George said. "One's trying to hold his ground, the other's trying to make up ground."
Gansler campaign aides say they believe their strategy is already working, based on an internal poll they released in part to the media on Monday.
Morrill, the Democratic strategist, suggests that the negativity could backfire.
"When you wind up having negatives balancing negatives, then you can have the potential for a candidate with a strong positive message … who can really sweep through the race," he said.
Historically, Maryland's Democratic primary contests have not been cantankerous. Morrill worked on what was arguably the last hostile one, the 1994 campaign that led to the nomination of Parris N. Glendening. That year, after Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg watched his front-runner status slip, he launched a series of negative ads against Glendening, questioning his fiscal management as Prince George's County executive, for instance.
Glendening eventually won the nomination and the general election.
The former governor has not endorsed a candidate in this year's race, but has been watching as the fight between Gansler and Brown grows increasingly negative.
"Between now and the primary," Glendening said, "the best one can hope for is that it doesn't get worse."