Gov. Martin O'Malley will endorse Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at a campaign rally in Annapolis today and has begun encouraging his supporters to back her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, sources familiar with his plans said.
The governor's endorsement is hardly a surprise -- when speaking in the abstract about the next president, O'Malley has been known to use the pronoun "she" -- but it would solidify Clinton's position in the race for Maryland's delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski has signed on as a national co-chairwoman of the Clinton campaign, and O'Malley's backing would give the New York senator the support of the two most powerful statewide Democratic organizations in Maryland.
"The people of Maryland know Hillary Clinton ... and they know she has the experience to be the next president," said Wayne Rogers, a former Maryland Democratic Party chairman who is backing the New York senator. "Hillary Clinton clearly believes the state of Maryland is important, and ... she is coming to Maryland to be endorsed by the governor."
The Clinton campaign announced it would "make a major campaign announcement" at City Dock in Annapolis today but provided no further details. O'Malley administration officials also declined to discuss the 9 a.m. event. Sources said O'Malley will serve as the chairman of Clinton's Maryland campaign.
Both parties' nomination contests are as wide open as they have ever been in decades, and the campaigns have started at a much faster pace than usual.
Maryland has not traditionally played a major role in the nomination process, and even with the state's recent decision to move its primaries up to February, the contests could well be all but decided by the time voters here go to the polls.
But that hasn't dampened candidates' interest in the state. Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was recently named the Mid-Atlantic chairman for Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani's presidential campaign. Josh Rales, the millionaire former Senate candidate, held a big-dollar fundraiser for Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and Democratic sources say the Clinton campaign has approached Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon about an endorsement.
Former Sen. John Edwards, a North Carolina Democrat, also has strong backers in Maryland -- including state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.
The Clinton campaign has long sought to convey a sense of inevitability about the senator's prospects for the nomination, but that effort has been upset recently by Obama's strong fundraising, said Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of a book on national campaign strategy for Democratic presidential candidates.
Clinton raised $26 million in the first quarter of the year -- a record for that period -- but Obama was close behind with about $25 million.
"Among the early primary resources in any party are money and endorsements, so she can continue to try to make the case for her inevitability or front-runner status by filling the tote board with endorsements," Schaller said.
O'Malley's endorsement shows what an advantage Clinton's long years in the national spotlight provide as she tries to do that.
In 1999, the senator's husband, then-President Bill Clinton, brought O'Malley, then a newly elected Baltimore mayor, on a peacemaking trip to Ireland. The Clintons also both held campaign events for O'Malley in the waning days of last year's governor's race. The former president also appeared in a television ad for O'Malley.
O'Malley has been complimentary toward the other major candidates for the Democratic nomination, but he has not been coy about his leanings.
"I'm very much inclined to support Senator Clinton," O'Malley said during a March appearance on The Politics Program with Mark Plotkin on Washington Post Radio. "I've been very impressed with Senator Clinton. I think she's been a terrific senator and would be a wonderful president of the United States."
O'Malley has not had a perfect eye for picking presidential winners. In late 2003, he endorsed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who was then a front-runner for the Democratic nomination. But Dean's losses in Iowa and New Hampshire -- plus an infamous whoop caught on tape after the Iowa caucus -- effectively knocked him out of contention by the time Marylanders voted in March 2004.
"Martin O'Malley is 0-for-1 on presidential endorsements," said Dan Ronayne, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. "Howard Dean didn't work out so well last time, so after Dean's scream, maybe he wanted to go with someone a little more calculating this time."
O'Malley's support for Dean didn't hurt him in the end. Despite picking the losing candidate, he still received a coveted speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention that nominated Democrat John F. Kerry.