O'Malley hits road to sub for Clinton

Governor makes N.H. appearance

June 03, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

CONCORD, N.H. -- Gov. Martin O'Malley got to live a politician's dream yesterday when his sport utility vehicle rolled to a stop in this presidential primary-obsessed state amid a throng of cheering supporters.

The only hitch was that they were chanting somebody else's name.

O'Malley was in Concord for the day on behalf of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presidential candidate he endorsed last month, representing her at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention while she was busy campaigning in Iowa.

Although it was not at first clear whether those chanting "Who will it be? HRC!" at O'Malley's car were greeting him or under the mistaken impression that he was a voter in need of convincing, they turned out to be the first part of a warm welcome from the state's first-in-the-nation primary voters.

"Governor O'Malley has all the right characteristics," said Sylvia B. Larsen, president of the New Hampshire Senate and a veteran of the state's quadrennial vetting of presidential candidates. "He's personable. He's nice to talk to and nice to look at."

Nevertheless, O'Malley faces a tough balancing act between establishing a national presence and doing his day job. He has long faced criticism from those who believe he is always looking to the next office - a criticism former Gov. William Donald Schaefer has frequently raised - and Republicans in Maryland are keeping a close eye on his travels.

`High-profile travel'

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the minority leader from Southern Maryland, said O'Malley should be home working on a solution to the state's projected $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

"With a trip to Ireland, a trip to Las Vegas and a trip now to New Hampshire, it seems like there's a lot of high-profile travel going on and not a lot of heavy lifting on the state's financial problems," O'Donnell said.

While the Las Vegas trip was an economic development jaunt, and the Dublin visit largely consisted of policy presentations to Irish leaders, the New Hampshire appearance was purely political.

O'Malley said he doesn't intend to make a habit of trips like yesterday's, which he said he was comfortable making because he was able to go up and back on the same day. The challenges he faces as governor means he needs to stay close to home, he said.

He added, however, that getting Clinton elected to the White House could be the best way for Maryland and other states to fix the health care system, ensure homeland security and tackle other national problems.

While Clinton sent O'Malley as her convention surrogate, four presidential candidates spoke at the event - Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio. The rest of the Democratic candidates are due to arrive today for a debate.

O'Malley had competition as the most prominent surrogate from Michelle Obama, the wife of Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, and he didn't generate quite as much attention as some of the candidates, particularly Richardson.

He didn't go unnoticed, though.

Even as the New Hampshire Democrats consider the eight candidates for the party's 2008 nomination, the state's political veterans say they're always on the lookout for new talent, so that O'Malley didn't so much work the room as stand in a relaxed slouch in a stuffy school cafeteria and let the room work him. A steady stream of New Hampshire politicians - with a 424-member legislature, there's no lack of them - walked up to shake his hand and give him a quick once-over.

"It's always good to visit New Hampshire in a presidential year and see how seriously our fellow citizens take their responsibility," O'Malley said. "It's a positive aspect of our strange presidential election process that all candidates can still get to campaign in a state where regardless of how much money you do or don't have, you can reach everyone."

Receptive crowd

Because there were no Republicans around and no other governors performing similar duty for other candidates, O'Malley had a receptive crowd. There wasn't talk of a Clinton-O'Malley ticket - a notion that has buzzed around Annapolis and Baltimore in the weeks since the governor endorsed the former first lady - but a substantial portion of the crowd had heard of O'Malley and had a positive if vague notion of his record as mayor.

That, and the fact that he was in a band.

Mostly, though, they seemed to pick up on the idea that he could someday be back to New Hampshire in his own right.

"I've heard of Governor O'Malley, the great things he did as mayor of Baltimore, and I've heard him mentioned as presidential material," said Boaz Chandrasekhar, 18, a student at Philips Exeter Academy who was one of the first to shake O'Malley's hand yesterday. "I've had a very favorable impression of him."

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