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Clinton plants a flag in O'Malley's home state

Hillary Clinton reacts to applause from the crowd before speaking during the sixth annual Women in the World Summit on Thursday in New York.
Hillary Clinton reacts to applause from the crowd before speaking during the sixth annual Women in the World Summit on Thursday in New York. (Julie Jacobson / Associated Press)

It's Martin O'Malley's home turf, but Hillary Clinton is beginning to engage in Maryland.

For a state that rarely plays a role in presidential politics because of its late primary, Maryland has received considerable attention from Clinton's nascent presidential campaign — including an effort to engage elected leaders and early communication with political donors.

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O'Malley, a former two-term governor, is widely expected to announce his presidential ambitions in Baltimore next weekend. Since leaving office in January, the Democrat has become a regular presence in early-nominating states and has promoted his record in Annapolis and as Baltimore's mayor.

Polls show Clinton crushing O'Malley in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, even as the former secretary of state has faced her share of obstacles. Hundreds of emails sent from a private account she used during her time at the State Department were released Friday, resetting attention on a controversy that had ebbed somewhat in recent weeks.

With its late-April primary — nearly three months after the Iowa caucuses — Maryland has long been flyover country for presidential candidates.

Yet Clinton called Rep. Steny H. Hoyer when she formally launched her campaign last month and requested that he reach out to other elected officials in the state. The Southern Maryland lawmaker also helped coordinate an organizing meeting for Clinton volunteers this month in Bethesda.

Her campaign has held at least three similar meetings in the state since then.

"I don't think Hillary is taking anything for granted," said Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House. "What I've experienced so far is a lot of enthusiasm and broad-based support for her candidacy."

And what of O'Malley, who led state Democrats for eight years?

"I admire Governor O'Malley, I like Governor O'Malley," Hoyer said, echoing a sentiment expressed by others backing Clinton.

"I think he's proving to be … a very attractive candidate," he added.

Most of Maryland's federal elected officials long ago expressed support for Clinton, including Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. The dean of the state's congressional delegation, who is close with O'Malley, came out early for Clinton, providing a measure of political cover for others to follow.

Sen. Ben Cardin, who had previously expressed his support for Clinton, reiterated that position in an email Friday.

"Hillary's ground-breaking presidency will be a message to the world that the U.S. has selected the very best to lead our nation and that we are prepared to take on the challenges necessary to ensure a progressive future where all young girls and boys, regardless of ZIP code or continent, have an equal shot at reaching their dreams," Cardin wrote to supporters.

An O'Malley spokeswoman said the campaign isn't putting much stock in such gestures.

"The establishment backing the establishment is the oldest story in politics," O'Malley spokeswoman Haley Morris said in a statement. "If Governor O'Malley runs for president, he'll bring new leadership — not old-guard establishment thinking — to the race."

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Clinton's campaign has repeatedly pressed its network of elected officials in Maryland to engage in the race. Lawmakers and their staff have been asked to use social media to direct their supporters to events for Clinton, for instance.

That effort has caught the attention of some O'Malley supporters who speculate Clinton's team is trying to undercut him.

"I'm surprised that they are being as aggressive as they are right now," said Yvette Lewis, a former chair of the state Democratic Party and an O'Malley ally. "If it was me, if I was getting calls this early in the game, I would be a little concerned because I would feel like I'm being strong-armed."

In public, the Clinton campaign has gone out of its way to ignore O'Malley's potential candidacy. Several Clinton supporters said they have not seen evidence of an approach that is any more heavy-handed than in other states that aren't home to a presidential aspirant.

"Just like we are doing in all 50 states, D.C. and the territories, we are starting early, building a lasting relationship with communities and organizing to earn every vote in each primary and caucus, taking nothing for granted," Clinton campaign spokesman Tyrone Gayle said in a statement.

In addition to interactions with elected officials, Clinton is hiring staff in Maryland, including several former aides to then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign last year. Alicia Jones, a Baltimore native who worked briefly for Brown, is serving as the Clinton campaign's "grass-roots organizer."

Michael Schultz, a fundraiser for Brown, is now the Clinton campaign's finance director for Maryland and Delaware.

And there are early signs the Clinton operation is beginning to tap political donors in the state. Maryland ranked ninth in the nation in political giving in the 2008 presidential campaign.

"Absolutely," said longtime political operator and donor Lainy LeBow-Sachs, when asked if she had heard from Clinton's campaign finance team. "I've given and I'm going to raise for her."

LeBow-Sachs also has given thousands of dollars to O'Malley. But, she said, she's supporting Clinton.

Polls have shown voters in Maryland have a mixed view of O'Malley. About 60 percent of both Democratic and Republican residents polled by Goucher College in February said O'Malley should not run, compared with 31 percent who said he should.

That's an improvement, said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher. During last year's gubernatorial campaign, when Republican Gov. Larry Hogan was running television ads criticizing O'Malley's record, 65 percent of respondents said O'Malley should not run.

O'Malley does better among state Democrats who would actually vote in the presidential primary. Only half of them say he should not run.

"Maryland might not necessarily be throwing their support behind the hometown guy," Kromer said, "but the pathway to the presidency doesn't go through Maryland."

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