O'Malley had compared Christie to comedian Don Rickles on-air, and not in a good way: "Chris Christie's brand of sort of 'Don Rickles' leadership is unusual. The bombast and all of that stuff is entertaining, but it doesn't make for good governance."
What Christie characterizes as flippant, others might call TV-glib, in a good way.
On July 8, he squared off with Bobby Jindal on ABC's "This Week." The Louisiana governor said America was "going the way of Europe" thanks to what he characterized as the president's failed economic policies.
"You want to talk about going the way of Europe?" O'Malley fired back. "What went the way of Europe were the Swiss bank accounts and American dollars that Mitt Romney stuffed in that offshore Swiss bank account, jobs that he facilitated companies in moving offshore out of places like Ohio, out of Pennsylvania and Maryland."
That's the kind of biting TV retort that led Politico on July 14 to describe O'Malley as "perhaps the sharpest-tongued, most enthusiastic and aggressive advocate for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign."
It's the mix of TV skills and political credibility that feed O'Malley's rise, analysts say. Competence on TV has to be part of a complete package, they explain, pointing to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who hosts his own show on Fox News. But he has all but fallen off the national political radar in 2012.
"While being telegenic and appealing are necessary to becoming a successful national candidate, such qualities are insufficient," says Richard Vatz, a Towson University professor of rhetoric and a longtime O'Malley watcher from the conservative side of the political spectrum.
"A viable candidate also must be perceived as a potential winner electorally, have positions consistent with the Democratic or Republican consensus and be what we in rhetoric call 'mystifying,' or persuasive in ways that are difficult to articulate," he says. "O'Malley has all of these qualities and no disqualifying ones, such as scandals in his past or enemies among major power brokers."
O'Malley does, however, have critics of his ubiquitous Sunday-morning TV presence.
Writing online at The Atlantic magazine this month, contributing editor Gregg Easterbrook slammed O'Malley for appearing on "Face the Nation" July 1, the day after a major storm left tens of thousands without power in Maryland. The thrust of the article: Rather than really doing the hard work of governing, O'Malley uses TV to give the appearance of doing the hard work of governing.
"He's handsome. He's a smooth talker. He's very knowledgeable. He's a good television guest, and I don't object to him going on television," Easterbrook said in an interview. "What I object to is him doing that instead of doing the job he was elected to do by the voters. He has unlimited time to do television appearances and fly around the country. But somehow he doesn't have enough time to deal with Pepco [a Washington-area power company] or other important legislative issues."
Raquel Guillory, O'Malley's director of communications, calls Easterbrook's criticism unfair.
"The show took maybe 30 minutes of his time that day," Guillory says. "He left there and went to Montgomery County, and then to Prince George's County. Then he went to MEMA, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. So to criticize him for taking 30 minutes to do a Sunday talk show out of an entire 10-hour day where he visited cooling centers, meeting with the county execs, meeting with citizens ... is not fair at all."
Takirra Winfield, O'Malley's press secretary, says O'Malley is serious about what he presents on television.
"He takes time to himself to go over his points — what he wants to say," says Winfield, who accompanies him to TV appearances.
Guillory and Winfield say O'Malley does not use media consultants for advice on cosmetics of the medium. And yet, from clothes to makeup to camera presence, he appears every bit as TV-groomed as any presidential candidate.
"He's very much involved in this. It's not a large team [of aides] kind of crafting, 'When does he smile?' It's not that," Winfield says.
Towson University's Vatz says he believes O'Malley does take his TV appearances seriously, and that he has refined his TV image as result.
"People used to ask if O'Malley has a temper, an uncontrollable temper," Vatz says. "But if you see him on TV now, you see how carefully he chooses his rhetoric and selectively uses his combative personality."
O'Malley's most aggressive public comments recently — about the "constipation Congress" and having his "boot up Pepco's backside" — were not made on television.
One potential result of moderating his language for television: He projects a more presidential temperament. Every source contacted for this article talked about O'Malley in terms of a run for the presidency in 2016.
"He's a potential 2016 contender himself, with a lot of buzz surrounding that," Fischer Martin of "Meet the Press," said, listing another attribute that makes O'Malley an attractive guest.
Talking about the ways in which every candidate must have TV skills, CBS' Schieffer says, "O'Malley's really good at it, and I think it will serve him well. I think you're going to hear more about Martin O'Malley. I'm not saying that as advocate, because I'm certainly not that. But he has a very valuable skill. He's honed it and he's getting better at it. … We're always glad to have him, and we'll have him some more."
Recent tweets from Baltimore Sun media and television critic David Zurawik:
Text NIGHTLIFE to 70701 to sign up for Baltimore Sun nightlife and music text alerts
Follow David Zurawik on Twitter | Read David Zurawik's blog, Z on TV | Read David Zurawik's bio