Gov. Martin O'Malley
Gov. Martin O'Malley

In supporting same-sex marriage and the DREAM Act, state voters may have provided Gov. Martin O’Malley the political fodder he needs to thrust himself into the running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

Talks of his aspirations for higher office have echoed throughout the state for months, if not years. But with Maryland making national headlines on Election Day by embracing major Democratic initiatives at the ballot box, the party need look no further than O’Malley for a progressive icon to carry the torch in 2016, experts say.

With two years left in his second term — meaning he can’t run again in 2014 — O’Malley may be “laying the groundwork” for a presidential run, said marketing professor Hank Boyd. Between becoming the first state to uphold same-sex marriage on the ballot and passing the DREAM Act, which enables undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they meet a set of requirements, O’Malley has boosted his stock as a presidential candidate.

“In some sense, that is a way to garner some of the spotlight,” Boyd said. “I think that he wants to come off as progressive, as the progressive governor and the leader of the state of Maryland.

“Maryland has sort of been ahead of the curve in that regard.”

With the approval of both of these measures, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) said it helps frame the state as more inclusive and receptive to civil rights issues. However, she said she did not hear of O’Malley’s potential run for president.

“Maryland is progressive; Maryland’s legislature is very diverse,” she said. “We want equality, we want justice, and we want fairness for everyone living in Maryland.”

And what could be even more attractive to O’Malley’s suitors in the Democratic Party is the changing landscape of voters in this country. With the Latino vote becoming an increasingly important demographic, O’Malley will likely fare well in these circles with a record including the DREAM Act, which affects many Hispanics. Securing this voting bloc helped President Obama keep his hold on the White House, Boyd said.

“If you look at the strengths of the Latino voters in this country, they were decisive in this last election,” Boyd said. “If President Obama didn’t carry the Latino vote, he would not have been re-elected.”

While O’Malley’s White House run is simply speculation at this point, Del. Michael Smigiel (R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s) said it has been obvious to him for a while O’Malley has been eying the national spotlight, but it has been to the state’s detriment.

“It’s clear that since the day the governor stepped into the governor’s mansion, his attention has been on higher office, not on taking care of the problems here at home,” Smigiel said.

As the state grapples with budget uncertainty and looks to create more jobs, Smigiel said O’Malley hasn’t put his weight as governor behind solutions to benefit the state. He said initiatives such as fracking — a controversial process that includes drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure — which Smigiel believes could help address energy concerns and put residents to work, have taken a backseat to a more politically charged platform.

“Could we raise jobs and revenue by allowing the fracking to take place in western Maryland? Absolutely,” Smigiel said. “There’s a lot of things that could be done to fix the fiscal problems in the state and to actually address real concerns of energy that he’s not doing because they don’t fit a political agenda.”

Smigiel cited O’Malley’s aggressive push for windmills off the coast of Ocean City as an example of political posturing over effective energy solutions.

Supporting same-sex marriage and the DREAM Act were further evidence of O’Malley clamoring for the national spotlight, Smigiel added.

“I see no other purpose,” he said. “We’re going to have to pick up the pieces and clean up after he’s gone.”

O’Malley is certainly an attractive option for the Democratic Party in 2016, Boyd said, but that could change if former senator and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who lost to Obama in the 2008 primaries — chooses to run again.

“If she wants it, they would hand her, I think, the nomination on a silver platter,” Boyd said. “If Hillary opts not to run, then I think Martin O’Malley knows that he’s definitely going to be under consideration.”