By Paul Schwartzman and John Wagner
The Washington Post
Monica McCarthy was at Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry in September, a big Iowa Democratic shindig, and she remembers the featured speaker, the governor of Maryland, the handsome guy in blue jeans who gave her an autograph.
His speech was pleasant enough, recalled McCarthy, chairwoman of Iowa’s Union County Democratic Party, but could have used “some polish.”
“He needs fire in the belly if he wants to be president,” she said.
What was his name again?
“Deval Patrick? . . .” McCarthy said, mistakenly invoking the Massachusetts governor. “Oh damn . . . Mike McNally? An Irish name?”
His name is Martin O’Malley, and he hasn’t said much about what he’ll do when his term as Maryland’s governor expires in two years, even as pundits and politicos have promoted him as a Democratic presidential contender in 2016.
Just focusing on my job, the governor likes to say, eager to add that the attention is all very flattering. Or he deflects the question, as he did in New Orleans on Super Bowl weekend, when he told “CBS This Morning” that the next election is “a long way away.”
And yet: There was O’Malley at Iowa’s steak-fry version of a political coming-out party. And there he was in New Hampshire for its statewide convention. There he was at the Democratic National Convention last summer, speaking from the podium during prime time. There he is on such talk shows as “Meet the Press,” regularly smacking Republicans.Esquire magazine recently highlighted him (“What It Takes, Now”), as did the Atlantic’s website (“Forget Paul Ryan, Martin O’Malley Has the Best Abs on the Hill”).
Of course, the next presidential election is almost four years away, but the reality of modern campaigning is that it starts when election night hangovers end — a marathon of trips to Iowa and New Hampshire and meet-and-greets with fundraisers and media consultants, all to build a national brand.