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Same speculation, different styles for O'Malley, Cuomo

ElectionsExecutive BranchBill ClintonInterior PolicyPersonal Weapon Control

By the time Gov. Martin O'Malley left the Democratic convention last fall, he had schmoozed with party leaders from Iowa, spoken to potential donors and hosted swanky parties that kept delegates entertained into the next morning — efforts that heightened speculation about his ambitions beyond Maryland.

But another governor on the short list of potential 2016 presidential candidates, New York's Andrew Cuomo, took an entirely different approach: He arrived in Charlotte two days late, spoke for 20 minutes to his state delegation and went home.

The two Eastern state governors are often mentioned together as potential candidates for president these days.

Both have captured national attention for backing high-profile laws such as the legalization of same-sex marriage and tougher gun regulations. Both represent a new, younger breed of Democratic Party leaders. And the ambitions of both men could be derailed by a bid from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But when it comes to political style — and how they are handling speculation about whether they will run for president — the two couldn't be further apart.

"Cuomo is far less visible," said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist based in New York. "But Cuomo has a national name. O'Malley doesn't."

O'Malley, 50, appeared on Sunday morning political talk shows 13 times last year as a campaign surrogate for President Barack Obama. Cuomo wasn't booked at all. O'Malley visited early primary states such as Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire, and recently made his third trip to Israel. Cuomo rarely leaves New York.

Cuomo made one of his first overt political moves last month, signing a book deal that publisher HarperCollins promises will provide "a full and frank look at his public and private life." Memoirs have become a required endeavor for most national candidates.

Differences between the governors reflect personal style but also underscore an important political reality. The 55-year-old Cuomo — a Cabinet secretary under President Bill Clinton and the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York — is better known and can afford to stay quiet for now.

By contrast, if O'Malley wants to keep options open, his best bet is to keep raising his profile.

"He needs to be out there," said John Brabender, who managed former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum's second-place finish in the 2012 GOP primary. "All he can do is move the ball forward every day with the hope that the pathway will open up down the road."

The 2016 Democratic nomination buzz around Cuomo and O'Malley began long before Obama won his second term. But if the election were held today, early polling suggests, both would be crushed by Clinton or Vice President Joe Biden.

Clinton, who has not said whether she will run, captured 65 percent of Democratic voters in a Quinnipiac University poll this month. Biden took 13 percent. Cuomo came in third with 4 percent. O'Malley, capturing 1 percent, tied for fourth with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.

With Clinton out of the mix, the poll showed Cuomo winning 15 percent and O'Malley taking 3 percent.

A national poll taken four years from an election has limited value, but it does highlight one of O'Malley's challenges. Because Maryland is smaller and less politically prominent than New York, he will have to work harder than Cuomo to introduce himself and to build a fundraising network..

But if Clinton and Biden do sit 2016 out, much of the focus will fall on Cuomo and O'Malley.

O'Malley, who told The Baltimore Sun in April that he is considering a run for president, used his chairmanship of the Democratic Governors Association in 2011 and 2012 to keep his profile high. And he remains the group's finance chairman, which keeps him in contact with a coterie of top donors.

That's smart, several political professionals said, because if Cuomo does enter the race he would be a formidable fundraiser. As home to Wall Street, New York is a magnet for national fundraising. Cuomo has more than $22 million in his state campaign account.

"This guy can raise money," said Douglas Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College in New York.

O'Malley had about $60,000 in his main state account and nearly $30,000 in a federal political action committee he created last year.

And that raises another important political difference between the two: Cuomo is up for re-election in 2014. O'Malley, who is nearing the end of his two-term limit, is not.

Democrats who know both O'Malley and Cuomo say the way the two have approached 2016 so far is partly indicative of their personalities. Many consider Cuomo to be more carefully managed and politically hard-nosed.

"Martin is more instantly likable," said Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and Democratic National Committee chairman. "Andrew is likable when you get to know him, but his manner is not as easy.

"On the flip side, I think Andrew is considered to be more substantial and serious-minded and focused on issues," he added. "Martin gets handicapped because he's so charismatic but Martin O'Malley has also done some groundbreaking and innovative things."

It's not clear whether the two governors have much of a relationship, good or bad. Outside of occasional fundraisers, they rarely appear together.

Cuomo, who served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under Bill Clinton, was elected governor in 2010 during a leadership vacuum. Former Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer had resigned in the wake of a prostitution scandal in 2008 and his lieutenant governor, David Paterson, lurched from one crisis to another during most of his nearly three-year term.

Obama, the nation's first black president, privately called on Paterson, New York's first black governor, to step aside in 2010, according to news reports at the time. Cuomo, unchallenged in the primary, won the general election with 63 percent of the vote.

Cuomo not only restored a measure of order to his state's unwieldy politics but also set about advancing a number of landmark measures through a divided legislature, including such Democratic priorities as a tax overhaul that imposed higher rates on top earners, the legalization of same-sex marriage and tough gun laws.

Both O'Malley and Cuomo have similar legislative achievements they can pitch to liberal voters who tend to dominate primary elections. But the way Cuomo handled those measures also alienated some in his party.

He personally helped New York Republicans who voted for same-sex marriage in their re-election fights — honoring a promise but angering some in his own party. He also pressed ahead so quickly on the state's new gun law that even he has acknowledged that at least one provision will have to be rewritten.

Cuomo signed the state's gun law — a response to the shootings in nearby Newtown, Conn. — on the second day of this year's legislative session.

Following a process that reigned in Albany long before Cuomo was elected, the measure was negotiated with legislative leaders and dropped on rank-and-file lawmakers hours before they were to vote on it. The measure requires background checks on almost all gun sales and expands the number of guns that fall under the state's assault weapon ban.

Maryland's new gun prohibitions, by contrast, percolated through the legislature, where they were subjected to hours of public comment. The Maryland law also imposes an assault weapons ban and requires a license to buy a handgun — a provision New York already had in place.

O'Malley has plenty to talk about when he steps on to the national stage. He rarely misses an opportunity to talk about the Education Week rankings that annually rate the state's schools as the best in the nation. New York's schools rank third in that analysis.

Maryland's unemployment rate, at 6.5 percent, is lower than New York's 7.8 percent.

Charlie Cook, Washington's best-known political handicapper, said a comparatively cooperative legislature in Annapolis probably gives O'Malley more freedom to raise his profile. Albany, Cook said, is less forgiving.

"As governor of New York, spending an enormous amount of time running around the country laying the groundwork is trickier than it is for O'Malley," said Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

O'Malley's national appearances have sometimes backfired, underscoring the risks of the more visible approach.

His behind-the-scenes work at the national convention drew plaudits, but a prime-time address was overshadowed by more dynamic speeches. And the more time he spends out of state, the more he becomes vulnerable to inevitable criticism that he is not focusing on Maryland. Among others, Republican state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, the Senate minority leader, has knocked O'Malley for his out-of-state forays.

Neither governor agreed to be interviewed about their strategy — which is not surprising, given how little both have publicly discussed 2016.

A Cuomo spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment, while O'Malley did provide a written statement. He called Cuomo "an effective leader for the people of New York," and said that "these early years of his administration hold tremendous promise."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jfritze

old tremendous promise."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jfritze

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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