By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun
9:25 AM EST, December 2, 2012
President Barack Obama no longer needs Gov. Martin O'Malley as a top campaign surrogate, and the Democratic Governors Association is set to elect someone else as its chairman on Monday when the group meets in Los Angeles.
But neither development is likely to push Maryland's governor off the national stage.
"Once you achieve a certain stature, which I believe O'Malley has, then you are going to remain a sought-after speaker, surrogate, television guest," said Anita Dunn, a national political consultant who was an adviser to the Obama campaign.
Time in the national spotlight could be helpful if O'Malley seeks higher political office when he leaves the governor's mansion in two years. It also opens him to criticism at home, where Republicans and some Democrats have questioned whether he's paying enough attention to the state.
And if he keeps up the national pace set this year, questions about his next move will only intensify — along with grumblings about his perceived priorities.
The governor has traveled beyond the state's borders more than two dozen times since January to work on behalf of national Democrats, including trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, key early primary states in the 2016 presidential race.
He touched down in 19 states between January and September.
Producers at the Sunday morning talk shows put O'Malley in front of their cameras as often this year as the Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, by The Baltimore Sun's count.
In an interview last week, O'Malley said he will stay involved with the Democratic governors group after stepping down as chairman and will still be available to represent the party nationally.
"Washington, D.C., is still 25 minutes down the road on a Sunday morning," he said. "I suppose if they call and ask, I will."
Over the next year, the governor is expected to lead fundraising for the governors group. The association will be gearing up for 2014, when 36 state-level elections will be held.
Maryland's Republican Party is ready for the governor to keep flying around the country. State Republicans track his travel schedule; when he makes a partisan appearance elsewhere, they send talking points about tax increases under O'Malley to Republicans there.
They also mark out-of-state appearances on a Google map titled "O'Malley's March to the White House" — a shamrock is posted on each state the Irish-American governor visits.
"He's the governor of a major state, and he's trying to balance his national ambitions with his day job," said David Ferguson, executive director of the Maryland GOP. "Where has he chosen to spend the most time? How many more times will he be in New Hampshire?"
Some Democrats also question his focus.
"I don't think he's putting everything he's got into governing as opposed to campaigning," said state Comptroller Peter Franchot, a regular critic of the governor. "I think he's paid a huge price."
Franchot noted a recent Sun Poll showing that only 30 percent of Maryland Democrats would support O'Malley for president.
"It's understandable, because I think there's a price to pay for all the out-of-state time," he said.
O'Malley says such criticism has quieted because the state has enjoyed stability through his travels.
"If we were not prepared for [Hurricane] Sandy, if we were losing jobs instead of creating them, if our schools were slipping in the rankings, if crime was up or if our bond rating was down, then I might have heard more criticism," O'Malley said.
Supporters say time away from the state can pay dividends.
"Any time you travel, you bring back ideas," said Colm O'Comartun, a longtime O'Malley aide who became executive director of the Democratic governors group when O'Malley took the reins in 2010. "Any time you sit down with smart, successful peers, you learn something from that."
There has been a cost to taxpayers. The Maryland State Police, which protects the governor 24 hours a day, reported spending nearly $100,000 on 26 out-of-state trips since Jan. 1.
The governor was accompanied by state staff members on 10 of the trips. Their expenses totaled $8,000.
While he has two years left in his second term, it is unclear how much work O'Malley has left to do in Annapolis. In six years, he has checked off most of his legislative priorities: laws to limit sprawl, increase spending on education, balance the state budget, legalize same-sex marriage, expand education opportunities for illegal immigrants and redraw the state's congressional map to add another Democrat to Congress.
O'Malley just lost his top legislative officer to the world of Annapolis lobbying. His lieutenant governor, Anthony G. Brown, is expected to play an increasingly public role as he prepares for a gubernatorial run of his own, with O'Malley's endorsement.
There remain two efforts outstanding: legislation to expand wind energy, which made it through the House of Delegates last year, and repeal of the death penalty, which does not appear to have sufficient support from a State House full of politicians weary of special sessions and tough votes.
"I think the general feeling is that we are exhausted," said Del. Kumar P. Barve, the House Democratic leader. "I don't think we have anything earth-shattering this year."
It would be understandable if O'Malley, too, needed a rest. The past 18 months have included one regular session; three special sessions and an election with four contentious ballot items. He's had victories in nearly every area.
He's chaired the Democratic Governors Association for twice as long as governors tend to remain in charge.
When he started in 2010, there were 20 Democratic governors. Now there are 19.
Jennifer Duffy, an analyst for the Cook Political Report, doesn't knock O'Malley for the loss. She says the Democrats were expected to lose more.
She said the GOP had reasonable chances to win races in Washington state, New Hampshire, Montana and North Carolina. In the end, they gained only North Carolina.
The Democrats "held the line," Duffy said. "Sometimes holding the line is the best you are going to do."
Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, sees it differently. On O'Malley's watch, Republicans won a closely watched recall election in Wisconsin that was seen as a referendum on public-sector unions. North Carolina has been governed by Democrats for two decades — and for 100 of the past 112 years.
Now, he said, 30 states are run by Republican governors — the largest majority for any party in a dozen years. (One state, Rhode Island, is governed by an independent.)
"It is 30 to 19," said Schrimpf. "If that is how you measure success, then it is a prejudice of low expectations."
Schrimpf called the GOP's success in the gubernatorial races a "bright spot" in a year "that went overwhelmingly Democratic on the federal level."
Democrats won the White House, expanded their majority in the Senate and gained seats in the House.
O'Malley said his most significant contribution to the governors association was uniting Democratic executives behind one message: Jobs and opportunity. It was a theme he hammered on the talk show circuit.
"The DGA never had that; they never had a message," he said.
The message — and the messenger — gained traction this year. O'Malley has appeared on the top five Sunday morning television shows 14 times in the past year, according to The Sun's tally.
The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call tracks appearances by members of Congress on those shows. Their list was topped by three Republicans: former presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona (20 times), Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (15) and Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who chairs the House Budget Committee (14).
Among O'Malley's most frequent stops was CBS' "Face the Nation." O'Malley spoke on the show four times, including an appearance during which he made a rare gaffe. On Sept. 2, just before Democrats met in Charlotte for their convention, he answered a Republican question by agreeing that the country was not better off than it was when Obama was elected.
Host Bob Schieffer says he expects to put Maryland's governor back on the tube.
"I think Martin O'Malley is one of the most respected voices on the Democratic side," Schieffer said. "I find him credible, straightforward and engaging."
"He's obviously partisan," Schieffer said. "We are always looking for people who can state the case for both sides."
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.
Martin O'Malley is the rare governor who rivals congressional leaders for appearances on the Washington-based Sunday morning talk shows. The count includes CBS' "Face the Nation," NBC's "Meet the Press," ABC's "This Week," CNN's "State of the Union" and "Fox News Sunday."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. 20
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. 15
Gov. Martin O'Malley 14
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. 14
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. 12
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. 11
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas 8
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. 7
Sen. Marcio Rubio, R-Fla. 7
Sources: The Baltimore Sun; Roll Call
Note: The count does not include other governors or members of the Obama administration.
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