Arguing that both political parties need to create a "new narrative" as the nation heads into a polarizing 2012 presidential election, Gov. Martin O'Malley said Thursday that none of the leading GOP candidates have "offered policies that are terribly different than the ones that got us into this mess" and he predicted that President Barack Obama would be reelected despite sagging poll numbers.
Speaking to a regular breakfast gathering of political reporters in Washington, O'Malley also offered sly praise for the leading GOP presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for supporting a 2001 law in Texas that permits some illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates. The law, similar to one passed in Maryland this year, has recently been used against Perry by his Republican opponents.
"One thing I do like about Perry -- I do like the fact that he recognizes that fair is fair and if a family's paying in-state taxes, they should pay in-state tuition," the Maryland Democrat said at the breakfast, hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "I think he's right in making that assertion… Just because Congress can't get things done and just because we can't overcome our current affliction of xenophobia and have a rational immigration policy again, is no reason to condemn hardworking kids."
In the Republican presidential debate on Monday, Perry defended the Texas law against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who vetoed a similar proposal in 2004. "I'm proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society, rather than telling them, 'you go be on the government dole,'" Perry said during the debate.
Maryland's law, which O'Malley signed in May, was suspended this summer after opponents gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot for referendum next year.
It was O'Malley's first time addressing the breakfast, a longstanding Washington gathering. The first Maryland governor to attend one of the sessions was Spiro T. Agnew in 1968.
The hour-long discussion focused largely on next year's presidential election, with O'Malley defending the Obama administration, including the $447 billion jobs package the White House unveiled earlier this month. O'Malley, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association, blamed the Bush administration for the sluggish economy and the debt crisis, noting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 2001 and 2003 income tax cuts.
"Their party is directly responsible for a great deal of damage to our economy because of their polices. And they cannot run away from that…People over time do figure out who's on their side and who's not. They're responsible for an awful lot of damage to our country's economy, to the erosion of our middle class, to first stagnating and then declining wages. Their worship at the altar of tax cuts for the wealthy is unbecoming to the vast majority of hardworking families that want a better future for their kids."
Asked about deficit increases created by Obama, particularly the $830 billion economic stimulus package in 2009, O'Malley held up a chart from the New York Times that showed that Bush's policies added more to deficits than Obama's. "In terms of the deficit, yes, certainly under President Obama it continues to go up until we get to a point where we bring it down. And no nation with 10 percent unemployment can ever hope in a timely fashion to retire the deficit – the record deficit that George Bush created and left to his successor."
O'Malley has become increasingly more engaged in national politics since taking the chairmanship of the Democratic governors group, fueling long-held speculation that he has ambitions to run for president, possibly in 2016. Asked about the emerging field of GOP candidates for 2016, O'Malley said, "I'm not, as a Democrat, afraid of their bench."
The governor declined to say whether he intends to face off against those potential candidates himself.
"I think we'll probably just go to another question."