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Posted at 5:00 PM ET, 01/21/2011

President O'Malley?

By Keith Berner

Speculation about Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s presidential ambitions (for 2016) hit the front page of The Post this week, as the governor was sworn in for a second term Wednesday. Here’s my quick take in three areas: job competence, electability and your blogger’s view of whether this whole thing is a good idea.

Competence. O’Malley has already demonstrated his ability to run a state government in difficult financial circumstances. He has balanced budgets, consistently gotten his priorities enacted into law, and won solid respect throughout the state. On the other hand, a President O’Malley would no longer have the luxury of a legislature as blue as Maryland’s – one of the most heavily Democratic in the country. How well could he work with and stand up to a Congress that at best would have tiny Democratic majorities and at worst could be overwhelmingly Republican? This is unknowable. Also – a burden for almost any governor campaigning for the presidency – we have no clue about his ability to grasp and manage foreign affairs and defense policy. But he’s a bright guy who could learn quickly.

Electability. I’m skeptical about the chances of any small-state governor's becoming president today. Though the cases of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are somewhat analogous, they didn’t suffer from what is probably the biggest hurdle for O’Malley to overcome: being from a deep-blue northern state. (Yes, Maryland is south of the Mason-Dixon, but the rest of the country certainly considers it politically northern.) On the other hand, O’Malley’s ability to annihilate popular former governor Robert Ehrlich in November cannot be overlooked. Also, his role as chairman of the Democratic Governor’s Association gives him some national prominence to boost his effort.

Desirability. Marylanders need to be concerned about their governor's spending the next four years thinking beyond his current job. How exactly would the state benefit from O’Malley’s spending time in Iowa and New Hampshire? How often will the governor make policy decisions geared more toward his future prospects than to local results?

From a progressive viewpoint, it's hard to be particularly enthusiastic about O’Malley. It’s nice to hear the guy speaking out against the national GOP’s tax giveaways to the ultra-wealthy, supporting green energy, and decrying money spent on foreign wars. But this is the same person who has opposed a more progressive tax code in Maryland, supported giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy in support of religious schools (the infamous BOAST bill), and pushed the environmentally and fiscally disastrous Intercounty Connector. I’ve been so disappointed in him that I almost voted Green in November, but was too scared of an Ehrlich victory to do so.

On the other hand, progressives like me have to remember that we are a distinct minority in this country. An Obama-style centrist is likely the best we can ever hope for in the White House. If we are too pure to accept a Martin O’Malley candidacy, whom are we going to back?

Count me intrigued, if cautious about an O’Malley presidential campaign in 2016.

Keith Berner blogs at Left-Hand View. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Keith Berner  | January 21, 2011; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Martin O'Malley, Maryland  
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Berner writes: How exactly would the state benefit from O’Malley’s spending time in Iowa and New Hampshire?

Remember, however, that O'Malley's term will be over by January 2015, leaving him with plenty of time over the subsequent 21 months to campaign for president.

Posted by: jrsposter | January 25, 2011 12:29 PM | Report abuse

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