We can win this thing in Maryland — we have the right message, O’Malley told them during a wide-ranging conversation that also veered into national politics and the health of the Chesapeake Bay, according to an aide at the table.
Commitments made at the June dinner led to a star-studded fundraiser in September in New York to benefit Maryland’s same-sex marriage campaign. It raised more than $100,000, raised the profile of the race, and was emblematic of the kind of effort that O’Malley put into an election that could hardly have turned out better for him.
Besides the victory on gay marriage, O’Malley also prevailed — through a combination of pluck and good luck — on ballot measures he pushed to extend in-state college tuition rates to undocumented immigrants and to expand the state’s gambling program.
He also claimed victory when voters overwhelmingly approved the newly redrawn congressional map, which even a fellow Democrat had called an “egregious gerrymander” that resembled “blood splatter from a crime scene.”
Some issues O’Malley clearly cared about more than others, but all had become closely identified with him and carried political consequences win or lose.
“It was almost as though he was standing for a second reelection,” said Thomas F. Schaller, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “To a certain degree, his administration was on the ballot.”
O’Malley acknowledged that he had never had to “multi-task” as much during an election season, and he faced some grumbling from activists who felt he wasn’t focused enough on their issue. But he seemed to surface at key moments.
When, for example, opponents of the expanded-gambling measure were flooding the airwaves with ads questioning whether money would go to schools, as promised, O’Malley appeared in an ad himself and confronted head-on the claim that you can’t trust politicians.
“I felt it wasn’t right to let them get away with this,” he said in an interview. “It became kind of obvious to me that not to speak up would be irresponsible.”
Although he was outspoken in his support of each of the measures on the ballot Tuesday, much of the work O’Malley did to bolster their chances took place behind the scenes.
Key players from his political organization — polling, fundraising and media consultants, as well as his 2010 campaign manager — were dispatched to work on the key ballot measure campaigns.
During the same June trip to New York, O’Malley also solicited donors to help the campaign for Maryland’s version of the Dream Act.