Maryland’s Martin O’Malley Breaks the Seal on 2016 Discussions

Maryland’s liberal governor is openly talking about his presidential considerations. By David Freedlander.

The starter gun for the 2016 presidential race went off Wednesday, however so slightly, when Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley indicated for the first time that he is seriously considering a bid.

The Democrat told The Baltimore Sun, “I need to be spending a lot more energy and time giving serious consideration and preparation to what—if anything—I might have to offer should I decide to run for president in 2016,” during a meeting with the paper’s editorial board tied to the end of the legislative session in Maryland.

Although potential candidates are hiring key staff and visiting the early primary states of New Hampshire and Iowa, O’Malley’s comments are among the most explicit yet by anyone on either side of the aisle about the next campaign.

That O’Malley has presidential aspirations should surprise exactly no one—the two-term governor has been hinting at a run for several years now. They came, however, amid a week of press coverage for O’Malley on the likes of which political consulting salaries are earned: Politico called him “Mr. Fix-It.” The Washington Post said the governor was boosting his “liberal credentials” in advance of 2016, and The New York Times gave him the front of its national section under the headline, “As Governor Steers Maryland to the Left, Talk Turns to 2016.” Much of this coverage has been generated by the most recent session of the Maryland General Assembly, which, under O’Malley’s prodding, seems to be attempting to turn the Old Line State into a mid-Atlantic Sweden: among the measures the legislature passed this year are stringent new gun-control rules, the abolishment of the death penalty, a medical-marijuana law, and higher gas taxes to pay for infrastructure projects.

But in his first Crystal Ball column on the 2016 race, University of Virginia political scholar Larry Sabato listed O’Malley as only a fourth-tier candidate, citing his small-state roots, his lack of name recognition, and the fact that he has a limited appeal outside the liberal base of the party.

“He is clearly running if he possibly can. The timing is perfect—this is likely the only chance he will ever have,” Sabato said in an interview. “But there is really nothing special about his candidacy. He is a generic liberal in a blue state, and this is a party that looks for something special.”

Weighing O’Malley’s chances is something of an academic exercise at this point, because if Hillary Clinton enters the race, she will likely clear the field, as, to a lesser degree, would Joe Biden, and the chances that both of them sit out ’16 is a decided long shot. O’Malley was an enthusiastic surrogate for Barack Obama in 2012 after stumping for Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary. Like nearly every other Democrat mentioned as a potential 2016 contender, O’Malley, who spent much of the last year traveling the country as the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, has publicly talked up Clinton’s candidacy, describing her as someone “who could be a great president.”

Still, there have been O’Malley supporters clamoring for him to begin campaigning in earnest anyway and some chatter in Democratic circles that he run regardless of what she decides. A primary campaign, especially if it is a positive one, could help boost his name identification and could keep the GOP primary process from stealing all the attention in the early part of 2016. (An O’Malley aide called this notion “absurd” and noted that the governor has pledged to support Clinton if she runs.)

Mike Stratton, a political consultant, fundraiser, and longtime friend of O’Malley’s, downplayed the significance of the Sun interview.

“He has been posed this question many, many times over the course of the last many months. And I think that, to his credit, he has not wanted to distract from his legislative agenda, and so he has stayed away from anything external to Maryland legislative politics. With the end of the legislative session, he thought it would be OK if he would respond to a question posed to him every day.”

And Stratton suggested that it behooves O’Malley to continue to make his pitch to Democrats around the country as he and everyone else in the political world waits on Hillary.

“The world will change exponentially between now and the time of the nomination,” he said. “Certainly if she doesn’t run, he would probably be, along with the vice president, one of the two frontrunners. If she does run, I think it is a whole other matter. She doesn’t have to do the Jefferson-Jackson dinners in Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada. But until she makes a decision, it is good for us, and it is good for the process, to have whomever out there making their case.”