Never mind defeating Bob Ehrlich in the governor's race, or sparring with rival du jour Peter Franchot. Or even rounding up the votes to close a billion-dollar budget shortfall.
The real test of Gov. Martin O'Malley's moxie yesterday was this: In his first-ever foray into the world of cyber-bowling, would he be able to keep his ball out of the gutter?
Moreover, could he do well enough to beat a septuagenarian who walks with a polished wooden cane?
"Everyone seems to know what the Wii is," O'Malley joked to a packed audience at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville. But he had never heard of the latest Nintendo craze until one of his aides asked what he knew about Wii (pronounced we), a wildly popular game console with a controller that allows players' actual movements to dictate what happens in the game.
"What do I know about we? I'm always in the business of 'we,'" he recalled saying.
The crowd laughed, but no one really thought he could win, even with an assist from Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who was to bowl every other turn. He was up against 71-year-old Phil Mumford, a tall, bearded strike machine and stalwart of the Charlestown Wii bowling circuit.
As O'Malley prepared by throwing on a blue and yellow bowling shirt with "Wii" spelled out on the back in bowling pins, the senior community's director of resident life urged onlookers to cheer loudly if O'Malley did well and to take it easy if one went into the gutter.
After coolly landing a spare, Mumford showed O'Malley which buttons to press, and the governor carefully let one fly.
The ball shot high into the air and rolled slowly down the lane, as though it had been thrust by a child.
"Ooh," the crowd said together in a low, taunting drone.
The ball nearly stopped at the bowling pins before knocking down six.
"Do you need some help?" Smith asked before taking down eight, which still wasn't much of a match for Mumford's strike in the second frame.
"I guess that just shows that youth doesn't stand a chance against age and experience," said Sherry Parrish, the very same director of resident life who moments earlier had asked her audience to take it easy.
Mumford, who hopes to organize a bowling league at Charlestown that can take on the staff at the retirement community or even compete with other communities in the area, tried a little coaching, pointing to the Wii.
"This thing is surprisingly accurate, so you really can't move your hand very much, it has to be straight," he said, going through a practice roll.
Before settling into position, O'Malley looked up to ask:
"Do you all bet on this?" he asked, smiling.
It's just as well for O'Malley that no wagering was involved. The coaching appeared not to help, as he sent another dribbler into the corner. But on the second roll, O'Malley got the hang of it, rolling the ball at a brisk pace, although it still wasn't enough for a spare.
Toward the end of the game, sensing victory wasn't to be his after yet another Mumford strike, O'Malley took some coaching and announced, rather dramatically: "I know when I'm beat, but I'm gonna do this one more time."
The audience fell into a hush.
O'Malley focused, spending a few more seconds aiming the ball with the controls, which showed up on screen as a red arrow that pointed to the pins on the right side of the lane. A brief pause for concentration, and he stepped into the roll, sending the ball straight into the middle pin.
"Strike!" the screen read.
O'Malley, though the loser, sent both hands into the air to loud whoops and chants of "There it is! There it is!"
He exchanged high-fives with Smith, who had only landed a spare during his turns, and went about gabbing and posing for pictures in his shirt, which he seemed all too eager to remove.
Despite his loss, many thought O'Malley had shown himself to be, well, rather winning.
"He needed a little practice, but he was OK," said Eileen Behringer, who moved to Charlestown in 2005 from Linthicum Heights. "I thought it was nice he brought himself down to that level to do that."