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Martin O'Malley makes a case for challenging Hillary

Former Baltimore mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley made the case Sunday for a challenge to Hillary Clinton, from himself or some other Democrat.

Appearing on ABC News' "This Week," he deftly avoided any direct criticism of the clear Democratic frontrunner by targeting the dynasty question, observing: "Let's be honest here. The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families. It is an awesome and sacred trust that needs to be earned and exercised on behalf of the American people."

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The veiled reference to the Bush and Clinton families, which between them have elected three presidents, was an unsubtle dodge. So was his observation that the Democrats need someone to take on Wall Street and "wealthy special-interest groups," without mentioning Hillary Clinton's strong support among them.

"I don't know where she stands,"Mr. O'Malley said. "Will she represent a break with the failed policies of the past? Well, I don't know." He did not specify the policies to which he referred. But the answer seemed another mild slap at Hillary from the man who was her presidential campaign manager in Maryland in 2008.

Mr. O'Malley suggested that the next Democratic presidential nominee should be one who would pointedly confront Wall Street. "Right now," he said, "it's not been a fair fight. It's as if Wall Street owns one party and is trying to totally intimidate the other. We need to stand up and put the national interest first."

There is one leading Democrat, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, already declaring war on Wall Street and the special interests, but she insists she is not a candidate. Mr. O'Malley's comment suggested his readiness to fill her shoes if she holds to her non-candidacy. So far, however, he has not generated the enthusiasm that has made her the darling of the party's liberals.

Instead, in the ABC News interview, Mr. O'Malley emphasized his 15 years of experience in governance in Baltimore and Maryland. While in 2008 he had said of Hillary Clinton that there was "no one better qualified" to confront dangers abroad, on Sunday he said, "We need people who know how to get things done" at home.

As for Ms. Clinton's huge lead in the polls, he was undaunted, even when moderator George Stephanopoulos cited a poll from last fall in which 70 percent of Marylanders said they did not favor Mr. O'Malley for the presidency. "History is full of times when the inevitable frontrunner is inevitable right up to the time he or she is no longer inevitable," he said. He did not bother to specify Hillary in 2008.

In all, Mr. O'Malley demonstrated he could put his past support for her behind him and be a credible and effective challenger to her in 2016. At the least, he could serve as a useful debater in piercing her heretofore unrevealing pre-candidacy, which has given rise to criticism even in her own party.

In such debates, two other prospective challengers, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, would likely require her to be more forthcoming on what a Hillary Clinton presidency would entail. Mr. Sanders, an independent voting with the Democrats, would test her liberal credentials. Mr. Webb, as a Vietnam War veteran opposed to the invasion of Iraq, would give her all she could handle defending her vote in the Senate to authorize the use of force there.

Mr. O'Malley, pressed by Mr. Stephanopoulos on his intentions to run, said he "will make a decision this spring." If only for the sake of bringing some needed light into the so-far enigmatic Hillary Clinton tease for the presidency, his candidacy, along with those of Sanders, Webb and any other yet-unrevealed Democratic aspirants, would be a public service.

Even an unlikely decision by Vice President Joe Biden to take on his friend Hillary would add both substance and humor to the debates. It would also provide some competition to what shapes up as a yawner among Jeb Bush and the pack of single-minded Obama-haters seeking the Republican nomination.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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