O'Malley expected to lead Democratic governors group

Chairmanship would give Maryland governor a national platform

December 01, 2010|By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun

Martin O'Malley is expected to be elected chairman of the Democratic Governors Association in Washington on Wednesday, a position that would give him a turn in the national spotlight.

As chairman, O'Malley could fatten his list of donors with names from other states, deepen relationships with a network of emerging Democratic leaders and recruit new faces to the party. It would also afford an opportunity to install loyal staffers in key national positions.

The position proved a stepping-stone for former President Bill Clinton, current Health Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, among others.

"It is an important leadership position," said Nathan Gonzales, the political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "If it is O'Malley, it will put him on a larger stage than just being the governor of Maryland."

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi showed the way during the 2010 election campaign, when he made the Republican Governors Association a major fundraising resource for GOP candidates — and kept his own name in the national media.

But the job does not necessarily translate into national stardom.

"You don't get this huge national profile unless you seek it out and work it," said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the Cook Political Report.

O'Malley drew notice this year with his 14.5-point victory over Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., doubling the margin of his 2006 win in an otherwise down year for Democrats.

Spokesman Rick Abbruzzese would not confirm that O'Malley is pursuing the job. But his political team forwarded an association press release touting the meeting at the St. Regis Washington hotel on Wednesday, when 12 Democratic governors and governors-elect are scheduled to announce their leadership team, and colleagues said he had expressed interest in the job.

Dan Malloy, the Democratic governor-elect of Connecticut, said the two spoke recently about O'Malley's desire to fill the role. Malloy said he would support O'Malley; he said he did not know of any other governor interested in the job.

O'Malley has been the vice chair of the association for the last two years and has also been the group's official fundraiser.

"Martin is willing to step forward and do that role for a period of time," Malloy said. "I'm comfortable with his leadership."

(At the same time, Malloy joked that O'Malley should stay away from his Connecticut donors: "They are mine and he can't have them.")

Maryland Republican chairwoman Audrey Scott, meanwhile, described O'Malley's anticipated election as more evidence that he "is more concerned with furthering his own political aspirations than doing what is in the best interest of Marylanders."

"With a historic number of Marylanders still unemployed and a budget crisis looming, I would hope Governor O'Malley would focus on fixing Maryland instead of gallivanting around the country, raising money on behalf of other Democrat governors," Scott said in a statement.

But a spokesman for current association chairman Jack Markell, the governor of Delaware, suggested that Maryland could benefit from O'Malley's ascent.

Spokesman Brian Selander said the role gave Markell opportunities to "sell" Delaware to corporations.

"It opened some doors," Selander said. He said Markell was uninterested in exploiting the job's political potential: "He didn't make an aggressive attempt to find himself on talk shows."

Next year should be relatively quiet for the party governors' associations: Only three gubernatorial elections are scheduled, after 37 this year. Election Day losses have reduced the Democratic Governors Association from 26 to 19 members (they could pick up a 20th, pending results of a recount in Minnesota).

The group meets three times a year — with gatherings often pegged to meetings of the nonpartisan National Governors Association. But O'Malley could use the position to speak to Democratic organizations around the country, and represent his fellow Democratic governors to Congress and the White House. Former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening held the job; Glendening's son Raymond is now the association's political director.

The meeting at which the governors will elect their chairman is private, a spokeswoman said. Typically, the current chairman proposes a successor — ordinarily, the association's vice chair — and the group holds a voice vote.

Duffy, of the Cook Political Report, described O'Malley's election as a formality.

"He is next in line," she said. "If O'Malley wants to be chair, he will be chair."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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