O'Malley's aspirations take flight in Boston
July 30, 2004
Steven T. Dennis
Staff Writer

Olivier Douliery/ABACA

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Boston Wednesday.

BOSTON -- He hasn't even become governor yet, but the buzz about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's future presidential ambitions grew louder this week as he received the rising star treatment at the Democratic National Convention.

While his trajectory has not quite been in the league of Barack Obama, Illinois' soon-to-be U.S. senator, O'Malley has been the subject of intense media interest this week and delivered a speech about homeland security on Wednesday night. While his seven-minute speech was eschewed by cable networks, it gave him an opportunity to shine in front of national Democrats.

"Martin's one of those guys who only comes along every so often. He has tremendous public appeal," said U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Dist. 2) of Timonium.

O'Malley's rare political gifts have caught the attention of national Democratic figures, he added.

"I hear it. I hear people on the Hill talk about it, people who think long-term. ... The fact is people on a national level look at Martin as a future presidential candidate if he does the job he's elected to do," Ruppersberger said. "That doesn't take away from Doug [Duncan]. That's just reality."

O'Malley has all the ingredients of a national candidate, the congressman said.

"He's played in a band since he was a kid, he knows how to play to an audience, and he knows how to raise money. He did it for Kerry," he said. "He raised $1 million in a few weeks."

O'Malley's fans extend far beyond Maryland.

"I'm going to start the Draft O'Malley for President in 2012 Committee," said Dan Calegari, a Manchester, N.H., businessman who worked with O'Malley on the Gary Hart campaign in 1984 and dined with him Thursday morning.

Calegari recalled O'Malley sleeping on floors in New Hampshire and leading a cadre of young staffers 20 years ago with his drive and energy. He said a national network of former Hart staffers has been talking about an O'Malley candidacy ever since he became mayor, and Calegari said he is ready to head up a New Hampshire operation.

Always in the offing

The Baltimore mayor for years has been the subject of speculation that he could one day run for president some day.

On his trips to Ireland, O'Malley is introduced as a future president. Publications from Esquire magazine to the Daily Record have speculated on the possibility.

Even other mayors -- including Pittsburgh's Thomas J. Murphy and Miami's Manuel A. Diaz -- have been known to talk about a future O'Malley administration.

O'Malley brushes off such talk with the usual pablum about running for re-election (he is technically on the ballot this November, but faces no serious opposition), helping elect U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry president and defeating Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) in 2006.

"I only get that when I go to Ireland," O'Malley protested. "I haven't gone that far down the road. The best things in life are unplanned."

There are plenty of skeptics who laugh at the presidential talk, given that O'Malley likely faces a tough primary challenge from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan in 2006 and a battle to unseat Ehrlich, who could have $20 million in the bank.

U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Dist. 4) of Mitchellville said there are probably 50 members of the House and 20 in the Senate who are also thinking about the presidency.

"It amazes me how many people think they can become president," said Wynn, who supports Duncan.

Any O'Malley run for president is seen as being predicated on his winning the governorship or becoming a U.S. senator.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the center for politics at the University of Virginia, said O'Malley needs more political maturity and called it premature to consider him a national presence now.

"The insiders know him," Sabato said in an interview Wednesday after spending a few days in Boston for the convention. "He's smooth. He's charismatic. He sounds good. But first things first, he's got to be elected governor or senator before we start talking about anything else.

"There are a thousand Martin O'Malleys around the country," he said. "There are a lot of people in line ahead of him."

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report and a columnist for Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, agreed with Sabato.

"He's obviously in the gubernatorial mix, and he's on the schedule here, so there is some buzz coming out of Maryland for him, but it's an awful long way from being mayor of Baltimore to president of the United States," said Rothenberg, a Montgomery County resident who follows Maryland politics.

Rothenberg said O'Malley's lack of national notice can change because he has many of the traits that appeal to pundits and other national political operatives.

"He's not a national political figure as of yet, but we look for talent, fund-raising ability, charisma ... he has many of those qualities," Rothenberg said in an interview in Boston on Wednesday. "I would say that he's on the cusp right now."

Plenty of potential

O'Malley is not the only Marylander who could make a serious run for the Oval Office.

Whoever wins the governorship has at least some chance, be it O'Malley, Duncan or someone else, said Joseph C. Bryce, a former legislative director for Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).

"Any governor worth his salt thinks they can be president," he said. "And if they don't, maybe they shouldn't be governor."

Bryce added that Ehrlich would be an attractive GOP pick for vice president, but an outright run on his own for the White House would be tough because he favors abortion rights.

Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah Leggett and other Democrats said there are plenty of other Democrats who could be president, including Duncan, former congressman Kweisi Mfume and U.S. Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and Christopher Van Hollen Jr., among others.

Duncan and aides pishposh the speculation.

"I don't think you should put me in your story. I don't like politicians who run for office with the intent of running for something else," he said. "Some politicians are in office for a day and they are already talking about what else they are going to run for. I think you do your job and if you do a good job, then you talk about other things. I'm focused on Montgomery County and the state."

His aide Jerry Pasternak was more blunt: "You need a [therapy] session."

Mfume, national NAACP president and former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, is a rousing speaker with ambition and a national profile.

"I know I'd make a good president. The question is whether I would want to run. There has to be a vacancy," he said with a smile. "Usually, my name comes up about running for the Senate."

Cummings (D-Dist. 7) of Baltimore, head of the Congressional Black Caucus and a son of sharecroppers, gave a passionate speech to the convention after O'Malley on Wednesday night and enjoyed frequent applause.

Van Hollen (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington is also considered a rising star. Like O'Malley and Duncan, he would have to run for Senate or governor. Van Hollen appears to be eligible to run for president despite having been born in Karachi, Pakistan. The Constitution allows only "natural born" citizens to be president, but U.S. Code includes children born abroad to U.S. citizens as natural born citizens.

"It's not something I stay awake thinking about," he said.

Leggett also included on his list of possible presidents Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, who is on everyone's short list for lieutenant governor, Congress, U.S. attorney or county executive thanks to his Harvard education, charisma and Capitol Hill experience.

Also in line for bigger jobs are a number of other state politicians.

Maryland House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg offered up House Majority Whip Anthony G. Brown, who he said could be headed to the governor's mansion some day. Young, Harvard-educated and serving his country in Iraq, Brown (D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville could get a lieutenant governor nod in 2006.

There is also Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, who has said time and time again that he wants to be the nation's first Jewish president. Then there's Del. Peter V.R. Franchot (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park, a man nobody is talking about except himself.

"Just slip in a mention," Franchot begged Thursday, touting his de rigeur line about famed racehorse Seabiscuit's victory over long odds. "It'd be the only time in my life those two words would go together -- President Franchot."

Staff Writer Thomas Dennison contributed to this report.