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O'Malley vs. Ehrlich for president, and other predictions for 2015

In "Back to the Future Part II," the popular science fiction comedy of 1989, Doc Brown, the verbose inventor played by Christopher Lloyd, and Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, travel forward in time to try to keep Marty's future son from going to jail. Their destination: 2015.

And how do you like that?

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That means you're alive on the cusp of a year that seemed like a distant planet when it was mentioned in a time-travel movie you saw in its original release (or maybe it was on VHS, or maybe even LaserDisc).

Of course, other big years from futuristic fiction have come and gone — 1984 (Orwell), 2001 (Kubrick) — and the "Back to the Future" films really didn't set distance records for time travel. But destination years in time-travel fiction always seem fraught in some way, as if grand things are supposed to happen in them, or by the time they arrive.

Among other things, "Back to the Future Part II" predicted a speedier justice system after the banning of lawyers (we're still waiting on that one) and swift travel via "hoverboards," skateboards that float (a California startup has been working on one and trying to raise capital).

Making predictions in science fiction movies is risky business — there's a high risk of being wrong — but it's fun nonetheless. Same goes for newspaper columns.

So here are a few for 2015:

•On Jan. 21, Martin O'Malley gives up the Maryland governor's office to Larry Hogan to face the challenge of raising money for a possible 2016 run for the presidency. O'Malley continues to behave like a candidate, despite recent polls showing him to be the choice of only 1 percent of likely Democratic voters. He recently got Bill Hyers, an experienced politico who managed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's campaign, to be his senior adviser. Raising enough money to boost his profile, to have a real breakout year in the public consciousness, appears to be O'Malley's biggest challenge, besides the most obvious one — Hillary Rodham Clinton.

•Clinton, the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, is widely expected to announce her candidacy, but predictions for when that will happen are all over the place. Some reports have her announcing next month, others don't expect to hear a formal announcement until spring. There seems to be general agreement that, should Clinton decide otherwise, she'd make that announcement in January in deference to other candidates. So if we don't hear her say, "I shall not seek and shall not accept ..." by Feb. 1, then she's probably in.

•If Clinton gets in, does O'Malley get out? Not necessarily. He can use his candidacy to raise his profile for a future bid or for a job in Washington should Clinton win. "Could he beat Hillary?" muses Herb Smith, the long-tenured McDaniel College political scientist. "O'Malley remains a long shot, but Dems have nominated long shots before. Remember the saying of presidential primaries: 'Republicans fall in line. Democrats fall in love.' I think that remains valid."

•Dr. Ben Carson is probably in, too. It's hard to imagine the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon just saying no to the "Draft Carson" effort, if only for the rush that comes with being the most outspoken and provocative Republican — the man who said the Affordable Care Act "is the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery" — and the far-right's anchor in the long primary season. A recent CNN poll had Carson ahead of Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, and he was second only to the 2012 loser, Mitt Romney. Carson had 10 times the support among registered Republicans that O'Malley had among registered Democrats.

•Hogan, only Maryland's second Republican governor since January 1969, will get into office and try to figure out what to do about the state budget and an estimated $1.2 billion shortfall in revenue. That's more than twice the shortfall that was estimated when Hogan got into the governor's race, complaining of high taxes and a lousy business climate. Now he'll see how tough it is to roll back taxes while managing a roughly $39 billion budget.

•Hogan campaigned on the Maryland economy, declaring at every opportunity that it was flat and going nowhere because of competition from business-friendly states and because of new fees and taxes during the eight-year O'Malley administration. Hogan better hope Marylanders cut him some slack. The forecasts for the next two years have been blah. The most optimistic seemed to come from a regional economist with the Federal Reserve system, who in October told a conference of business executives: "Next year is not going to be an exciting time, but a steady time." Not exactly fabulous.

•One more thing: Bob Ehrlich, the Republican former governor and congressman, has been giving speeches in New Hampshire and talking about running for president, too. If that happens, there's the possibility of O'Malley against Ehrlich for president in 2016, a rematch of the governor's race of 2010.

That's real back-to-the-future stuff, but about as remote as a "hoverboard" or a world without lawyers.

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Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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