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Don't count out O'Malley [Commentary]

If I were advising either Hillary Clinton or any of the at least 10 Republicans giving thought to running for president in 2016, I would tell them to pay especially close attention to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland. Should they not, he may be viewing them all in his rear view mirror as he cruises toward the White House.

For those who think this a ridiculous premise, I would reply that you have no real understanding of politics at the presidential level. For those who would instantly try to trump that argument by saying, "You are clueless. According to a Baltimore Sun poll, Hillary Clinton is the first-choice for Maryland Democratic voters by a margin of 10 to 1," my answer would be "Good for her, but so what?"

That historically high number of support combined with much of the mainstream media and Hollywood bestowing both the Democratic nomination and the presidency upon Ms. Clinton may frighten off a number of people, but Mr. O'Malley is not one of them.

With that conventional-wisdom coronation at the front of his mind, Governor O'Malley was happy to color himself unimpressed: "I have a great deal of respect for Hillary Clinton," he said in an interview, "but for my own part, I have a responsibility to prepare and to address the things that I feel a responsibility to address…" Translation: He and his team have begun the run.

As an independent conservative who will certainly be pushing for a Republican president in 2016, I have watched Martin O'Malley operate in politics since he first became mayor of predominantly African-American Baltimore. Mr. O'Malley has proven himself to be many things over the years, with two of them being tough and more than willing to wallow around in the mud with any opponent at any time.

More than that, he has a "fire-in-the-belly" to become president. This guy wants it … bad. So much so, that unlike the other candidates for president who pretend to not even give it a passing thought, Mr. O'Malley says flat-out that he would make a good president.

Enthusiasm does matter in politics, and that could be a growing problem for Ms. Clinton.

For many people, even a number of Democrats, Hillary Clinton comes across as someone who looks down at the process of campaigning as if it and the average Americans she encounters were well beneath her and her station in life.

Ironically, Mr. O'Malley, very much like Ms. Clinton's husband, loves talking to voters, loves interacting and loves to get briefed by a cadre of experts. The 51-year-old governor has also been the voice of a Celtic rock band called "O'Malley's March" since 1988. He is used to being on the stage and relishes the lime-light.

While still relatively young, Mr. O'Malley is an "old-fashioned" liberal continually pushing big-government "solutions" while endearing himself to the special interest groups of the Democratic party as he pushes for gay marriage and labels illegal aliens as "new Americans."

No matter the "insurmountable" support for Ms. Clinton, Martin O'Malley still understands that not only does the media tend to lean left, but that it also tends to favor the more liberal candidate.

As Mr. O'Malley continues to travel from primary state to primary state while cementing political friendships along the way, he is leaving no doubt that there is no one more to the left of him.

Can Mr. O'Malley win? This time in the 2008 process, virtually no one had ever heard of Barack Obama.

If I were Ms. Clinton, I would buckle-up. And if I were one of the Republicans getting ready to run, I would take notes.

Douglas MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official and author of the memoir "Rolling Pennies In The Dark." (Simon & Schuster, 2012). His email is douglas.mackinnon@dentons.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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