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Analysis: O'Malley Building His Brand For Presidential Run In 2016

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Gov. Martin O'Malley is trying to raise his national profile in advance of the 2016 election.
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Gov. Martin O'Malley is trying to raise his national profile in advance of the 2016 election.

With the Maryland state legislative session in full swing, Gov. Martin O'Malley is working with an agenda that includes gun control, wind power and repeal of the death penalty, but O'Malley is thought to have national ambitions as well. Joining Matt McCleskey to talk about what his statewide priorities could mean for the national stage is Josh Kraushaar. He's political editor at National Journal, and he's written this month about O'Malley's profile.

What might the issue of gun control mean for O'Malley moving forward?

"O'Malley has made gun control a centerpiece of the upcoming legislative agenda in Maryland for the upcoming year. He's hoping to translate success, a major law that would increase gun regulations and make it a centerpiece for a possible Presidential run in 2016. Gun control has been the cause celebre for Democrats with national ambitions... O'Malley is looking to be the governor that passes the most ambitious gun legislation and hopes to put that as one of his signature achievements as the governor of Maryland."

It's hard to predict where the country will be in four years though, isn't it?

"It is. The governor's been very reactive to the issues of the day — the issues that liberal voters are concerned about. There's an open question that if he does want to pursue national ambitions or run for president, if gun control will resonate as much in 2015 or 2016 as it does now. He is betting that he has to build a national brand for himself now if he wants to run for president, and he is betting that gun control is going to be one of those issues for the Democratic party."

O'Malley also worked last year to pass legislation legalizing gay marriage in Maryland. How significant will that be if O'Malley takes on a higher-profile position?

"That could be one of the more significant pieces of his record in Maryland. Maryland is one of the few states to actually pass a constitutional amendment allowing for gay marriage. It's something that he's talked about. It was a tough, tough referenda and it passed only narrowly in November on the ballot. It's something that will energize Democratic activists and voters if he does pursue a national Presidential campaign. Unlike gun control, which is still a tough challenge to get through the state legislature, gay marriage is something that he has on his record."

Overall, what's your assessment of O'Malley's national position at this point?

"He is still a second tier candidate. The reason he is so active back home in Maryland is that he's trying to build up his brand and be among the most liberal governors, the most progressive governors in a 2016 field. He doesn't have the name recognition that many prospective candidates have — Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden the most prominent. But if he can build up a record of accomplishment in Maryland, and say he accomplished things that other governors failed at. If he has this liberal record of governance, it's something that can make up for his lack of name recognition."

To what extent would his liberal positions really compromise his ability to win a national general election?

"It's a challenge. His positions are very attractive to the base. The positions he's embracing on gun control could make it tough for him if he's the nominee, or if he wants to be a general election candidate, to win in these rust belt states with high concentration of gun ownership. So what might be good in a primary isn't necessarily good in a general election."

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