The state's 7 percent unemployment rate remains below the nation's 8.3 percent rate. And the housing crisis has hit other states harder, though the rate of new foreclosure filings in Maryland exceeded any other state's this spring after a flood of new cases followed a national settlement over allegations of mortgage-servicing abuses.

The governor has also been dogged by comments he made Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" in which he said the country was not better off than it was four years ago and that President George W. Bush was to blame. Though the comment was largely in line with Democratic talking points at the time, O'Malley and other campaign surrogates reversed course the next day, promoting the idea that the country was better off, after all.

Republicans pounced and have continued to raise the point — underscoring the damage that can be done when one wrong word is bounced around the 24-hour political news cycle.

"It's just indicative of what's going on with him and the Obama campaign," said state Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin, an Upper Shore Republican and frequent O'Malley critic. "He speaks the truth about the economy — saying that it's not better — and he immediately gets taken out."

Ahead of his speech, O'Malley met with Maryland's delegation twice, once at breakfast and then at a lunch to honor R. Sargent Shriver, the anti-poverty crusader and Peace Corps founder who died last year. He spoke at a closed event organized by AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, and then led a panel on infrastructure spending that included governors Steve Beshear of Kentucky and Brian Schweitzer of Montana.

After his address, O'Malley was set to play with his Celtic rock band at an Irish bar in downtown Charlotte, the first of two shows here. The band has seen new bookings as O'Malley works to shape his national image.

O'Malley avoided any reference to the War of 1812 — often a central theme of his speeches — but nevertheless told a story from the Revolutionary War in which Maryland regiments held off the British at the Battle of Long Island.

"In times of uncertainty — for the country we love — Maryland always chooses to move forward," O'Malley said. "Progress is a choice. Job creation is a choice. … That is what this election is all about."

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jfritze