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O'Malley, a good second choice [Commentary]

Why is Martin O'Malley running for the democratic presidential nomination when everyone on the planet knows it belongs to Hillary Clinton?

After all, he is not a man known for flights of fantasy. And, according to a Baltimore Sun poll, most Marylanders are not clamoring for him to run.

He's running because it makes sense.

Like him or not, Marylanders should share some pride that our state has produced a national figure who has the chutzpah to flaunt his measly 10 electoral votes in the face of the big guys who run states two or three times larger.

No recent Maryland governor has made the plunge (forgetting Spiro Agnew). Think about it: not Gov. Marvin Mandel, a great political tactician but really a city pol; not Harry Hughes, whose cautious stewardship contributed to losing a race for a Senate seat that would probably have suited him better; not William Donald Schaefer the Great, who would rather fix a pothole then dine with the president of France; not Parris Glendening, whose own appointed Board of Regents would not make him University of Maryland chancellor, a job he was probably ready for; and not Bob Ehrlich, who scored a real Republican triumph in a blue state.

Everyone knows our guy doesn't have a chance — heck, at this point, it looks like even a sitting vice president doesn't have a chance. Who else? New York Governor Andrew Cuomo doesn't seem to want to play. There's no senator around who is ready to clash with Ms. Clinton. Former Mayor Bloomberg (does he have a first name?) — the person-everyone-would-like-to-be-president — is playing coy, spending huge sums to elect local candidates, but not to launch his own candidacy.

Most Democrats are busy either waiting for Ms. Clinton or worried that something might happen to her. It's understandable since something often seems to happen in politics. Do we need to go through the list of national figures who were disabled by something that no one anticipated? Gary Hart (Monkey Business), George McGovern (running mate), George Romney ("brainwashing"), Ed Muskie (tears), Joe Biden (plagiarism), Rick Perry (forgetting the third agency he would eliminate as president), Sarah Palin (Katie Couric's interview), John McCain (Sarah Palin).

But it's clear, Hillary Clinton is not going anywhere.

And vast hordes of primary voting Democrats are ready and waiting for her. And that's exactly the point.

While most of his party is busy waiting, Mr. O'Malley is busy running. No Democrat is taking any slaps at him. In fact, they keep inviting him to keynote their conventions, never failing to praise him and his accomplishments. His press coverage is astounding. And he's even shoring up his foreign policy credentials. After all, since Maryland does not share a common border with Russia, he can't look out the window and see what's going on.

Full Disclosure: I am a great O'Malley fan. I have shared laughs with him, watched him perform with his Irish band and heard him sing Amazing Grace with the fullness of a gospel singer. Next to my old friend, Jerry Brown (Governor Moonbeam, remember), who has done wonders bringing California back to earth, I think he may be one of the country's best governors.

And while he has some local detractors, here's what most Democrats across the county see: a vigorous campaigner; an eloquent speaker who can quote poets; and a successful mayor and governor with managerial skills — a lost presidential art. This is no Chris Christie. They see an administration that's scandal free. And putting aside the health care website roll out, which seems to have perplexed everyone, they see a government that's blunder free.

Martin O'Malley is the state's CEO, and he likes it. And Democrats seem to like him for it. They get the feeling that if Mr. O'Malley was mayor of Detroit, it would never have gone under. And because he was a Hillary Clinton supporter in 2006, Democrats don't seem uncomfortable with what he is doing. And right now he is doing exactly what he should be doing: building his own political base, constructing a national staff, raising money for himself and others, spreading his reputation among party stalwarts and strumming his guitar.

Bottom line: Mr. O'Malley has a pretty shrewd understanding of how to be ready if Ms. Clinton decides not to run. He shows an even shrewder understanding of what he might deliver when she does run — if something should go wrong. And if it doesn't?

Clinton/O'Malley sounds like one hell of a ticket.

Theodore G. Venetoulis is a publisher, Maryland Port commissioner and a former Baltimore County executive. His email is ted.venetoulis@gmail.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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