Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will balance multiple roles at convention

September 1, 2012

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will be a busy man at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this week.

His aides have set up scores of media interviews and booked him to speak to several state delegations, including all-important Iowa. He could very well land a coveted prime-time spot addressing the convention.

He’s even bringing his band. O’Malley’s March, the Celtic rock group for which he’s lead singer, has booked two late-night gigs at local bars.

His biggest challenge this week may be to remember that, at this year’s convention, he is a supporting act and not the headliner.

Party conventions have long been target-rich environments for politicians eyeing future presidential races, and O’Malley is among the Democrats widely assumed to be looking at 2016. Thousands of party activists, key donors and political journalists will be on hand for the week.


Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley talks to reporters after the conclusion of a special session in Annapolis, Md. (Brian Witte/AP)

That provides ample opportunities to make good impressions, provided you don’t overlook the task at hand: in this case, helping President Obama get re-elected.

“Having this national platform is a huge opportunity,” said Mo Elleithee, a veteran Democratic strategist. “You can do some good work to set yourself up for down the road, so long as you don’t look like that’s why you’re there.”

O’Malley’s aim this week is far different than other prominent Democrats from the region. Former Virginia governor and DNC chairman Timothy M. Kaine, who is seeking a U.S. Senate seat this year, plans to spend only one day in Charlotte.

Republicans have sought to use Kaine’s closeness to Obama as a weapon, particularly his support for the controversial health-care and stimulus laws. But aides say Kaine — who has not tried to distance himself from Obama — is cutting his stay short for a more practical reason: He wants to head back home to resume campaigning.

While in Charlotte, Kaine plans to spend most of his time with the Virginia delegation.

Besides Iowa, O’Malley is also scheduled to speak to delegations from states including Ohio, Texas, Florida, Nevada — and, of course, Maryland.

His name is frequently mentioned on lists of potential 2016 Democratic candidates for president, along with the likes of Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

For politicians with national ambitions, Elleithee cited New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s performance at last week’s Republican National Convention as a model of what to avoid, criticizing his prime-time speech as more focused on Christie than Mitt Romney.

Obama is perhaps the best-known example of a politician greatly helped by his convention performance. He was a little-known senator from Illinois in 2004 when he gave a keynote address that electrified Democrats.

O’Malley’s national profile began to rise after his ascension in late 2010 to chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, a group that seeks to help fellow party members get elected around the country. The post has given O’Malley reason to travel the country and a perch from which to appear on national talk shows.

This Sunday, O’Malley is booked on a pair of talk shows that will broadcast from the convention site in Charlotte: CBS’s “Face the Nation” and CNN’s “State of the Union.” It will be O’Malley’s third Sunday appearing on a talk show in as many weeks.

O’Malley has gained a reputation as a reliable, always-on-
message Obama surrogate on the TV circuit. Last week, he criticized Romney and Republicans as “a party of exclusion,” saying on CNN that the GOP is hostile to the rights of immigrants and women. Republicans later accused him of being divisive.

Aides say O’Malley will stay similarly focused in Charlotte while wearing his two hats as a leader of the Maryland delegation and chairman of the governors association.

His band, O’Malley’s March, is scheduled to play on back-to-back nights in Charlotte at gatherings hosted by the governors association and the Maryland Democratic Party.

Aside from his convention speech, which aides have said little about, O’Malley’s most important appearances in Charlotte could be those in front of state delegations with key roles in the presidential nominating process.

He is among a who’s who of nationally known Democrats who have been invited to appear before the Iowa delegation, including Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who previously flirted with running for president.

O’Malley also plans to travel to the state later this month for a steak fry hosted by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

Given the state’s role in the nominating process, “it’s never too early to give Iowans something and someone to get excited about for four years from now,” sad Tracy Sefl, a Democratic consultant.

Sue Dvorsky, chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said her delegation is eager to see O'Malley at the convention. She said she caught an appearance O’Malley made last year on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and then started following him on Twitter.

“I don’t know Maryland. I don’t have family there,” Dvorsky said. “But it certainly seems he has a great vision for that state and has gotten things done. We can’t wait to meet him in person.”

But when the delegation does, she cautioned, members will be largely focused on this year’s presidential election, in which Iowa has emerged as a battleground state.

“Everyone here is focused on this November 6th,” she said.

Ben Pershing contributed to this report.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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