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Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley stumps for Obama in Manchester

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley yesterday mocked the succession of Republican celebrities who have come to New Hampshire to support GOP gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne as a “presidential pack,” jockeying for position ahead of the 2016 election.

So what does it mean that O’Malley came to the state with the first-in-the-nation presidential primary to campaign with Maggie Hassan, the Democrat running for governor?

In an interview with the Monitor, O’Malley, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, twice sidestepped questions about whether he’s thinking about a run for president in four years.

“I’m here to support President Obama,” O’Malley said. “My only interest is getting the president re-elected, and I’m doing everything I can to help elect Democratic governors.”

He added, teasingly, “Third time?”

O’Malley, a former mayor of Baltimore now halfway through his second term as governor, conducted interviews with local news outlets yesterday and was to campaign with Hassan at a number of Manchester landmarks, including the Puritan Backroom, the Red Arrow Diner and the Strange Brew Tavern.

He joins former president Bill Clinton as one of only a handful of out-of-state Democratic officials who have come to New Hampshire specifically to campaign with Hassan, a former state senator from Exeter running to replace retiring Gov. John Lynch, a Hopkinton Democrat.

By comparison, a steady stream of Republicans like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have campaigned with Lamontagne, a Manchester attorney, in recent weeks. Christie is back today for a second visit, a 6 p.m. rally in Exeter with Lamontagne.

O’Malley said those “are people that are running for president,” and compared their stops in New Hampshire to this summer’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, which he described as “almost like a horse show for who’s running in 2016.” The exception, he said, might be McDonnell, his counterpart as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. (Christie is the RGA’s vice chairman.)

In any case, O’Malley said, such visits probably aren’t a big deal, except to provide a boost by demonstrating that a candidate has national support.

“So that’s why I’m here,” he said. “But Maggie is an independent woman, very strong, certainly running her own race, and I’m glad to be here to support her.”

The DGA has backed Hassan’s campaign with millions of dollars in TV ads and other spending. The RGA has provided similar support to Lamontagne as polls show the candidates in a tight race two weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

“We’re very excited about her candidacy,” O’Malley said. “She’s run a tough race, a good race, and I believe she has the momentum coming into the final stretch here.”

He also criticized Lamontagne as an extremist on issues like equal pay for women. In an interview with the liberal website ThinkProgress that was published Monday, Lamontagne said women should be paid as much as men, “but I don’t know that it’s appropriate for the government to continue to micromanage the workplace.”

Hassan’s campaign quickly condemned Lamontagne for those comments, and O’Malley chimed in yesterday as her campaign kept up the attack.

“It is good for business when a state is an inclusive state, where individuals’ freedoms are respected and where equal pay for equal work is protected. I mean, that’s good for a state’s economy,” O’Malley said.

In an email, spokesman Tom Cronin accused Hassan of “fabricating” an issue and said Lamontagne “certainly thinks women should be paid the same as men and there should be legal remedies available to ensure that is the case and as governor he would support enacting laws necessary to do just that. Sen. Hassan’s campaign is taking five seconds of a 105 second clip out of context to try and concoct a story.”

O’Malley yesterday also praised Obama’s performance in Monday night’s televised debate with Republican Mitt Romney, the last of this fall’s three presidential debates. He said the second and third debates, and Vice President Joe Biden’s performance in the vice-presidential debate with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, helped make up for Obama’s less-than-strong showing in the first debate.

“I think that the president has slowed the Romney momentum, and perhaps last night might have even started to shift it,” O’Malley said. “I know that his performances in these debates have energized our base and our phone-bankers, and so you don’t have that sort of sinking feeling that a lot of volunteers had after the first debate.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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