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"I think his approval rating is very high in Maryland because he's shown you can build a better state through his progressive policies," he said. "I've said for a long time that we as Democrats have not really been articulate enough and forceful enough in what kind of society we want to build."
Harkin ran for president in 1992 on a liberal platform but lost to Bill Clinton, who ran as a centrist. Harkin, however, said it wasn't his message but his own errors as a candidate that cost him. And he predicted O'Malley would resonate in Iowa.
"He is a good, old-fashioned liberal," former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening said approvingly. Glendening said O'Malley is the anti-Romney when it comes to taking tough positions and sticking with them, and not just on taxes. O'Malley has also gotten kudos on the left for seeking to repeal the death penalty and pushing gay marriage and a state-level DREAM Act through the Legislature.
Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said O'Malley could catch fire. "I think he's doing what he needs to do to get to be a terrific national leader. ... He's a great candidate and he may hit the perfect moment," she said.
She said O'Malley would be very eloquent turning the conversation from one about taxes to one about caring for the country.
"The question is, are we a nation, are we a country, or are we only caring about me?" she said.
Glendening said O'Malley's message could resonate nationally with the party base better than some of the other contenders with more moderate records, and he's the first Marylander in memory with a real shot at the presidency.
"I think that standing for what you believe in and not waffling all over is a demonstration of personal strength that people respect," he said.
O'Malley bristled a bit at Glendening's "old-fashioned" characterization.
"I've generally used the term progressive," he said. "Certainly the politics I use are liberal in the classic sense of that word. ... I don't think that there's anything old-fashioned in the way that we manage, in our use of the Internet and performance measurement, the things that I've managed that we've received accolades about," he said.
That Old Hart Network
O'Malley has his fair share of critics both in Maryland and nationally, with some Democratic operatives privately wondering if he can compete nationally with the likes of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo or any number of others.
And his week has had some hiccups, to say the least. He stepped on the Obama campaign's message when he said "no" when asked if the country is better off than it was four years ago, handing the GOP a new talking point and forcing him and the campaign to walk back and explain the comment for the next couple of days. (He calls himself the victim of a "word splice" and what he meant is that the country still hasn't fully recovered from the "Bush recession.")
And while he did secure a prime-time slot, some reviews on Twitter and in the press were harsh, although he did engage the audience in a "forward, not back" theme and got off a few choice attack lines on Romney.