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Maryland Governor A Top 2016 Democratic Prospect

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Another notable figure at this year's convention is Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. Now in his second term, O'Malley scored a coveted prime-time speaking slot last night. He denies he has his sights set on a 2016 White House run. But as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, he's certainly acting like a presidential hopeful.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Martin O'Malley has been hard to miss in the last few days in Charlotte. He's met with convention delegates from half a dozen states, by his own count. This morning, he spoke to the Iowa delegation, touting passage of a version of the DREAM Act that will allow the children of illegal immigrants to attend Maryland's colleges at in-state tuition rates.

GOVERNOR MARTIN O'MALLEY: We believe in actually doing the things that work in order to create jobs, grow opportunity and extend fuller freedoms to more people. We passed the DREAM Act in Maryland.

NAYLOR: Afterwards, he engaged in the kind of retail politics that are essential in Iowa, and which O'Malley excels at. He turned on his Irish charm as he posed for pictures with delegates, including one named Nan, a recent convert from the Republican Party.

O'MALLEY: Nan, the angels cheer when one is saved.

(LAUGHTER)

NAYLOR: The 49-year-old O'Malley has taken an increasingly high-profile role in party politics. As governor, he's checked many of the progressive boxes, favoring same-sex marriage, freezing university tuition and raising taxes on high-income earners. As chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, he's been a frequent guest on the Sunday morning talk shows as a surrogate for the party and for President Obama.

This past Sunday, however, he stumbled when asked on CBS' "Face the Nation" if people were better off today than they were four years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

O'MALLEY: No, but that's not the question of this election. The question, without a doubt, we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession...

NAYLOR: Obama campaign officials were sent out the next morning to walk back those comments, deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter asserting that Americans absolutely were better off than four years ago. Compounding his problems this week, O'Malley's speech last night received some less than glowing reviews, especially given the standout performances surrounding him.

O'MALLEY: President Obama is moving America forward, not back.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Forward, not back.

O'MALLEY: Facts are facts. No president since...

NAYLOR: O'Malley, who also served as Baltimore's mayor before being elected governor, recently formed his own political action committee, the O Say Can You See PAC. And despite his miscues this week, Iowa delegates seem impressed with O'Malley. Kim Weaver of Sheldon, Iowa, says he's at the top of her list.

KIM WEAVER: He seems very friendly and approachable. It's kind of hard to tell so far, but it's - and it's fun when we're watching all the speeches and everything, we're thinking, hmm, so are we going to be seeing them get positioned for four years from now?

NAYLOR: And O'Malley, despite his denials, seems to be positioning himself for something. He's already accepted an invitation to Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's annual steak fry, another political showcase, later this month. After all, the Iowa caucuses are just a little over three years away. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.