Criticism of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley as an aloof politician more focused on his presidential ambitions than fixing the problems at home is starting to creep beyond Republicans, as residents and even some Democratic lawmakers question the governor's prolific national schedule in the wake of a massive power outage that wreaked havoc on the state.
"It's a perception problem," Montgomery County Councilman Hans Riemer, D-at large, said of O'Malley's recent string of national television appearances. "I think that he needs to get some results on the Pepco issue first, and being there during the emergency response is one thing, but making sure it doesn't happen again is something else altogether."
Added Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, "He has to be careful not to shortchange Marylanders in how he spends his time. I think he needs to step up his efforts [to improve electricity performance]."
Other Washington-area Democrats privately grumbled about the governor's public schedule but feared retribution from the state's most prominent liberal.
As head of the Democratic Governors Association, O'Malley has become one of the party's top attack dogs, skewering Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and expanding his national profile in the buildup to a possible presidential run in 2016.
O'Malley has tangled with the likes of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in a string of recent Sunday-show bookings.
Such appearances haven't been lost on frustrated Maryland residents.
"I heard O'Malley's been all over the TV," said Frank Barnes of Silver Spring. "Unfortunately, I didn't get to watch because I was sitting in the dark. Let's just say that I don't have full confidence his attention is here at home."
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett came to O'Malley's defense, however, noting that many of those interviews are conducted in nearby D.C.
"It's not like the governor is going far," he said. "That's a cheap shot. He can chew gum and walk at the same time."
But O'Malley's traveling has extended to a variety of political hot spots in a crucial stretch before November's elections.
He went to early primary states New Hampshire and South Carolina, to Wisconsin before the recall election there and spoke to Democrats in Maine and Massachusetts. He also jetted off to New York and Connecticut. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, O'Malley's Potomac rival and head of the Republican Governors Association, has made similar trips, but hasn't kept as high a profile on the talk-show circuit.
The hundreds of thousands of Marylanders left without power gave fresh ammunition to Republicans who have slammed O'Malley for a failure to spearhead a budget compromise before the end of the General Assembly session and a solution to the gambling quandary.
O'Malley supporters counter that the criticism is more about politics than job performance.
"We expect the rhetoric by the other side to heat up as the election draws closer," said O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.
Yet, some analysts said the governor is walking a fine line between his national and state commitments.
O'Malley's schedule "exacerbates the criticism," said Catholic University political scientist John White. "Anytime you have a situation like what we've had with Pepco, it increases an incumbent's vulnerability. But the vitriol is also because Republicans have been out of power so long [in Maryland] they're eager to pin anything on the governor."