Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday he will not seek the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski, keeping open his option of running for president in a Democratic primary likely to include Hillary Rodham Clinton.
O'Malley said in a statement he was "hopeful and confident that very capable public servants with a desire to serve in the Senate will step up as candidates for this important office. I will not be one of them.''
Mikulski announced plans to retire on Monday, giving O'Malley a second option if he wanted to avoid what looks today to be a longshot bid against Clinton. The surprise decision came as O'Malley has been gearing up toward a presidential campaign with upcoming appearances in New Hampshire and Iowa.
Little known outside his home state, O'Malley has yet to gain much traction in a hypothetical matchup against Clinton, who has a network of super PACs already working on her behalf and much of the party's establishment eagerly waiting for her to announce her candidacy. Those pining for someone other than Clinton have largely focused their longing not on O'Malley, but Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who tells everyone who asks she isn't running.
O'Malley has deep ties to Mikulski. While in law school, he served as field director on her first Senate campaign in 1986 and his mother Barbara has worked as a receptionist in Mikulski's Washington office since 1987. Yet the retiring senator has already endorsed Clinton.
O'Malley would have likely been the leading contender if he had pursued a Senate bid in a state where Democrats have a large voter registration advantage. But the Democratic field could be large and include members of the state's congressional delegation, led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, along with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, a former Montgomery County, Md., council member and O'Malley appointee.
Before the announcement, O'Malley allies noted that the former governor had always enjoyed the role of executive, having served as Baltimore's mayor for seven years before becoming governor in 2007. He has shown little interest in the past in serving in Congress.
O'Malley has said he will make a final decision on a presidential campaign this spring. He is scheduled to headline fundraisers and appearances in New Hampshire on Friday and Saturday and has separate trips to Iowa planned for March and April.
During an appearance in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Saturday, he took a veiled shot at Clinton, warning Democrats that more "triangulation'' would not be a successful strategy for the party. And he suggested large financial institutions should be broken up if they pose a threat to the American economy, something Warren has called for.
"People want to see new faces. There's a certain amount of Clinton fatigue,'' said Dan Calegari, a New Hampshire Democratic activist who first met O'Malley in 1983 when both worked on Sen. Gary Hart's presidential campaign. "They've been around for 30 years now. Quite honestly, I think if Martin decides to get in the race he will surprise some people.''
Calegari was organizing a small meeting of party activists with O'Malley in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Friday night.
Even as an underdog, there is a place for O'Malley in the presidential race, Hart said.
"I am not in favor of coronations and I'm certainly not in favor of the preordination of two families in America who can govern,'' Hart said. "I think it would be healthy for the Democratic party to have competition.''