By now, the gears of the campaign are turning smoothly: At the three debates with Ehrlich, he appeared well-prepped on the issues — to the exclusion, it seemed, of answering a lighter question about music — as was his staff, which churned out real-time fact checks and spin on points that arose.
On the campaign trail, it's been much the same. Inside the RV on this particular day, an aide tells O'Malley they're heading to Centreville, a necessary reminder given the multiple stops he makes as he crisscrosses almost every part of the state save its westernmost corner during this final push.
He's given a briefing book with information on the stop — names of local officials, the "hometown hero" whose accomplishments he will laud, other fun facts to know and tell about the town itself, and any gubernatorial largesse of which voters should be reminded before they head to the polls.
"Charlie Rhodes," O'Malley murmurs, noting the police chief as he scans the pages, commits the info to memory and tests out what he might say. "Oldest courthouse. … Teaches at Centreville Middle. … We provided 37 percent increased funding for schools. … They've raised test scores. … In the toughest of times, a 13 percent reduction in violent crime."
And then it's showtime.
O'Malley hits the ground with localized small talk ("So is this true? So is this the oldest courthouse in continuous use?") before hitting all his talking points (education funding, tuition freeze, crab moratorium, health care for kids, broadband Internet for rural areas).
Dee Walls, who welcomed O'Malley into her apparel and gift shop, Serendipidee, as he toured the downtown, said afterward that she hadn't decided whether to vote for him as she had in 2006, but seemed to be leaning toward it. She can look from the door of her 5-year-old store and see vacant storefronts in both directions, reflecting the still-struggling economy that makes her anxious about the future.
"It's tough, but we're hanging in there," said Walls, 54, a registered Democrat. "I'm looking for somebody who isn't afraid to make a decision for the everyday people. We shouldn't have to spend our lives, at my age, worrying about how we're going to spend the golden years."
That uncertainty makes Walls a bit reluctant to vote against the incumbent.
"A lot of times, it's hard to take somebody out that's already in there," she said. "Given the right amount of time, I think he can continue and do some more good."
In heavily Democratic, politically engaged Bethesda, O'Malley gets a mostly warm reception as he shakes hands with commuters at a Metro stop.
"I think he's done an astonishingly good job during extraordinarily bad times," said Virginia Mecklenburg, an art historian headed home from her job at a Washington museum.
In this mostly affluent part of the state, the word "taxes" doesn't necessarily send voters running away, screaming in horror.
"We expect excellent services here — schools, fire, police, food safety," Mecklenburg said. "We want them to all be at a very high standard, and the reality is that costs money."
In many ways, O'Malley has run a campaign that flies in the face of current conventional wisdom: at a time when no-new-taxes is a sure-fire rallying cry in many quarters, he defends raising the sales and other taxes and refuses to pledge he won't increase them in the future. The new revenue, he said, allowed the state to make long-term investments in education that will help Maryland emerge from the recession with a work force better prepared than states that cut such funds.
"I think that we have a better understanding than most states do of what it will take to make our state a winner in this economy," O'Malley said. "That allows people in our state to make a balanced judgment about that penny sales tax increase."
And at a time when some Democratic candidates are running away from Obama, O'Malley has embraced him. Though beleaguered elsewhere, the president remains popular in Maryland, drawing an enthusiastic crowd for a rally with O'Malley in Bowie early last month.
The governor is particularly quick to ally himself with Obama when speaking to African-Americans, the group that has proved most loyal to the president. Speaking to a mostly black crowd last weekend in Prince George's County, O'Malley quoted Obama's line about Republicans "driving our economy into the ditch" and linked it to his own campaign slogan.
"In order for President Obama to be successful in driving us out of that ditch, we have to move Maryland forward," he said. "I need your help, the president needs your help."
The pitch is much the same in majority Democratic and heavily African-American Baltimore, although in the city, perhaps, he has a more complicated relationship with residents who have known if not always loved him as first their mayor and then their governor.
Really an issue?