Former President Bill Clinton attends a fundraiser in support of Anthony Brown for governor with hundreds of attendees at the Bolger Center on Tuesday in Potomac. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Former president Bill Clinton came to Potomac on Tuesday night to raise money for Anthony G. Brown’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign in Maryland. But his appearance also put a spotlight on the 2016 presidential ambitions of the state’s current governor, Martin O’Malley, who could wind up facing Clinton’s wife in the Democratic primaries.

O’Malley has said that he is actively preparing for a potential 2016 presidential run and cannot afford to wait to hear whether Hillary Rodham Clinton — who would be a heavy favorite — is going to move forward with a bid. The two spoke by phone last year, according to O’Malley aides, and Hillary Clinton gave O’Malley her blessing to do what he needs to do to prepare.

Any awkwardness about the situation was not apparent on stage Tuesday night. In fact, the former president went out of his way to praise O’Malley’s leadership during his two terms in the Annapolis statehouse.

Clinton said he has “enormous affection” for Brown, the state’s lieutenant governor, but was supporting Brown’s campaign because of his admiration for O’Malley, as well. “I think it’s important, when people have got a deal that’s working, to build on it and not reverse it,” Clinton told the 700 people in attendance. “I think Martin O’Malley has done a great job.”

Clinton went on to say that “Maryland has got a lot to teach the rest of America” about how to bring people together and solve problems.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks with reporters in his office inside the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md., Monday, April 7, 2014, the final day of the 2014 legislative session. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

O’Malley took his turn at the microphone to introduce Brown and Clinton to the attendees, who were gathered in a white tent on the rolling grounds of the Bolger Center, a conference center in the home county of Brown’s two main Democratic rivals. But as part of the tightly scripted event, O’Malley left the stage before Brown and Clinton started speaking.

An aide said that Clinton and O’Malley — who have know each since O’Malley’s days as mayor of Baltimore — spoke briefly Tuesday night.

O’Malley’s phone call with Hillary Clinton was reported by Politico Wednesday morning.

Many people close to O’Malley say privately that they doubt he will ultimately run for president if Clinton gets into the race. But O’Malley aides argue he has no time to waste if he hopes to run a viable campaign and raise the kind of money that would be needed. In recent months, O’Malley has been boning up on national policy issues and has become a regular speaker at Democratic events around the country — including in several early presidential nominating states.

As mayor of Baltimore, O’Malley got to know both Clintons when he was part of the delegation on a presidential trip to Ireland in 2000.

O’Malley and the former president also came into contact through the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist policy organization. And after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, O’Malley worked with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton on homeland security measures.

Bill Clinton cut a television ad for O’Malley during his 2006 campaign for governor. And in early 2007 — just a few months after being installed in Annapolis — O’Malley became the second governor in the country to endorse Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid.

If both Clinton and O’Malley wind up pursuing the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2016, it will present an interesting choice for many Maryland leaders, possibly including Brown, who could be governor by then.

Already, some — including House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) — have said they plan to support Clinton, who would be the country’s first female president. If she does not run, both have indicated O’Malley would be a strong second choice.