CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Can a charismatic liberal Democratic governor from a small blue state with a history of raising taxes win the presidency? Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley looks certain to test that proposition in 2016.
Like a passel of other potential presidential candidates here at the Democratic National Convention, the term-limited two-term governor has been working the convention breakfast circuit and back rooms as hard as he can - even singing in his own Irish rock band in a few late-night gigs and getting a coveted prime-time speaking slot on Tuesday. Like the others, O'Malley has been careful to avoid explicit 2016 talk, saying he's solely focused on his role as a top surrogate for President Barack Obama and helping grow the party's gubernatorial ranks as head of the Democratic Governors Association.
"This is not a time to tell the Martin O'Malley story," O'Malley told reporters in one of his many media scrums this week as he races from event to event.
But his allies have long eyed an O'Malley presidential run, and with it, the return of a more aggressive, progressive brand of Democratic Party politics.
At the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston, some of O'Malley's supporters even joked to this reporter about an "O'Malley/O'Bama all-Irish ticket" in 2012 as then-state Sen. Obama's keynote speech shot him to national prominence.
O'Malley serves up one part old-time liberalism, one part efficiency czar and one part partisan attack dog wrapped up in a handsome Irish Catholic package.
And he hasn't shied away from the press, talking for more than 20 minutes with a group outside the Iowa breakfast Wednesday morning - longer than he spoke to the delegates.
While some other potential Democratic contenders here, such as Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), are preaching deficit reduction and reaching across the aisle, O'Malley rips into the GOP with gusto and tends to focus more on social and economic justice and the virtues of government programs.
"We need to ask one another and we need to ask Gov. [Mitt] Romney and we need to ask Congressman [Paul] Ryan, how much less they think would really be good for America? How much less education will make us stronger as a people? How many fewer college degrees will make us more competitive? How many hungry kids can we no longer afford to feed? I mean, what the heck's going on when we put a higher priority on ladling on tax cuts for billionaires but we're willing to let American kids starve?" O'Malley said in one typical fusillade.
'Double Kill Shot to Your Head'
In his own state, O'Malley's been willing to raise taxes in a way Democrats have by and large been scared to do nationally since Ronald Reagan's drubbing of Walter Mondale in 1984.