O'Malley No Longer Outside Looking In

Members of the Maryland delegation, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Gov. Martin O'Malley, celebrate their vote for Barack Obama.
Members of the Maryland delegation, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Gov. Martin O'Malley, celebrate their vote for Barack Obama. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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By Tim Craig and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 29, 2008

DENVER, Aug. 28 -- About 20 minutes before Barack Obama officially secured the Democratic nomination for president Wednesday, the Illinois senator picked up the phone and called Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who was a big supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's during the primaries.

O'Malley, who says he was surprised by the timing of the call, had spoken to Obama just once, briefly, since the primaries ended in June and was itching to step up his role in the presidential race.

For much of the summer, O'Malley watched the presidential contest from the sidelines while Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty were gaining national exposure as longtime Obama supporters. But during their conversation Wednesday, O'Malley said, Obama sought to carve out a role for O'Malley in the party's efforts to win the White House this year.

"He basically said, 'Look, I want you to be very involved in the general [election], and I want you to travel for me. I want you to be much more visible than you have been,' " O'Malley recalled.

With the Democratic National Convention now over, O'Malley and the Washington region's other two top Democratic leaders are all turning their focus to the November vote, as well as their own political futures.

A big victory by Obama, analysts say, could be especially helpful to Kaine and Fenty, given their early support for his campaign. The election also provides O'Malley a chance to once again try to assert himself as a future leader of the national party, despite picking the losing candidate during the primaries.

Four years ago, O'Malley, then mayor of Baltimore, gave a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston that focused on homeland security.

O'Malley's approval ratings have fallen since he pushed through tax increases last year to help fix the state's finances. In recent months, he has been focusing on energy and home foreclosure issues as he works to rebuild his public image.

Kaine is now carrying the Washington region's banner. He was a finalist for the vice presidential nomination and delivered a speech at the convention Thursday night.

In it, Kaine spoke of his Catholic faith, quoting from the Gospel of Matthew, and remembering his work with Catholic missionaries in Honduras during law school. He spoke briefly in Spanish, asking Latinos in the crowd whether they were united.

"While I was learning how to put my faith into action in Honduras, Barack Obama was doing the same thing on the streets of South Side Chicago, helping people reclaim their lives after the steel plants closed down," Kaine said in the speech. "Starting right here in the Mile High City, we will put our faith into action."

The Virginia governor could land a key role in an Obama administration, given his close relationship with the Democratic nominee. Kaine has been mentioned as a potential attorney general or as secretary of education, transportation or housing.

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