Gov. Martin O'Malley used an address in New Hampshire on Saturday to compare the city he inherited as mayor in 1999 with the nation many believe he hopes to lead.
Noting he was elected Baltimore's mayor 14 years ago this month, the Democrat used an address in the first-in-the-nation primary state to argue that the country, like Maryland's largest city, has suffered from a "a cynical time of disbelief."
"I don't know about you, but I've had enough of the cynicism. I've had enough of the apathy. I've had enough of us giving in to self-pity, small solutions and low expectations of one another," O'Malley said at the fundraising dinner for the state Democratic Party.
"Let us achieve like Americans again," he said. "Let us lead like Americans again."
O'Malley has said he is considering a run for president in 2016 and the address Saturday was among the highest-profile political appearances the governor has made this year.
Unlike past speeches focused more on Maryland, O'Malley spent significant time on Saturday discussing his turnaround efforts in Baltimore: reducing crime, cleaning streets and launching the campaign that left city buildings emblazoned with black-and-white 'Believe' signs. He argued a similar focus on "shared conviction" may be the prescription for the country's middle class.
"There is big difference between the America we carry in our hearts, and the American we see in our headlines," he said.
In a statement, New Hampshire Republicans responded by describing O'Malley as a "liberal, income tax supporting extremist" who is out of step with voters.
"During his abysmal terms in office, Governor Martin O'Malley implemented crushing new regulations, job-killing policies and $9.5 billion in new taxes," said party chairwoman Jennifer Horn.
O'Malley's flirtation with national office has taken place in the shadow of Hillary Clinton.
Clinton hasn't said whether she will seek the Democratic nomination, but there are clear indications the former Secretary of State and New York senator is preserving the option. Former Clinton allies are leading a political action committee, Ready for Hillary, in case she decides to run. The former first lady remains visible through frequent speeches.
But analysts say O'Malley is also making the right moves to position himself if Clinton doesn't run. He's set up his own political action committee, O' Say Can You See, and is starting to raise money. As the finance chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, O'Malley has traveled around the country fundraising and campaigning for gubernatorial candidates in other states.
The governor's past speeches -- including the one he delivered at the Democratic National Convention last year -- have often been criticized as stiff. But Saturday's address was free from the lofty rhetoric and war metaphors that have occasionally distracted from his message. And he managed to discuss wonky management successes he's had in Maryland while remaining focused on aspirational themes.
O'Malley, who is term-limited and will leave office in January 2015, spoke in the Granite State in June 2012 as a surrogate for President Obama's reelection campaign. At a convention in Manchester organized by the state Democratic Party, he mainly discussed the economic recovery. He returned last October to campaign for Obama and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan.
Early polling in New Hampshire has shown O'Malley, 50, has a long road ahead with state voters. More than eight in 10 said they didn't have an opinion of him in a WMUR Granite State Poll of likely primary voters last month.
Clinton won the most support in that poll, with 63 percent, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden, who tied at 6 percent. O'Malley captured less than 1 percent.
Hours before O'Malley spoke, another potential 2016 candidate, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, made his first appearance in Iowa since the 2012 election. Ryan, the vice presidential nominee last year, was the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for the state's Republican governor, Terry Branstad.
O'Malley took several swipes at the tea party during the address, arguing at one point that there is little difference between conservatives and "mainstream" Republicans.
"We have had enough of tea party Republicans like Ted Cruz, haven't we?" O'Malley said in reference to the junior senator from Texas. "What Senator Cruz doesn't understand is that the patriots who founded New Hampshire and Maryland didn't pray for their president to fail, they prayed for him to succeed."