ANNAPOLIS - A repeal of Maryland's death penalty is poised to pass the legislature Friday, giving Gov. Martin O'Malley a key piece of the liberal agenda he has pursued in this year's legislative session.
The death penalty repeal, which passed the Senate on March 6, would be the second of O'Malley's key goals to make it to his desk. A bill requiring Maryland to purchase offshore wind power is already on its way to be signed.
House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell, R-St. Mary's and Calvert counties, said Maryland already has a de-facto moratorium on executions. He called the bill a needless waste of lawmakers' time, useful mostly to O'Malley as he seeks to elevate himself nationally among liberals.
Maryland hasn't executed anybody since 2005 and has put to death five inmates since 1978. O'Malley's administration has refused to put into place protocols that would allow the state to move forward with the executions of the five inmates currently on death row.
"Most people think it's about this governor's political ambitions and not the merits of the issues," O'Donnell said.
Political observers agree that the agenda O'Malley has pushed since becoming governor in 2007 looks like that of a man with an eye on the White House.
"It's certainly the type of agenda that would set him up well in Democratic primaries, which are battles to appeal to primarily liberal voters," said David Lublin, a government professor at American University. "There are a bunch of landmark achievements on liberal issues."
In addition to a death penalty repeal and offshore wind, O'Malley is also pushing a bill that would give Maryland some of the strictest gun laws in the nation and a plan to raise money for transportation projects through a new tax on wholesale gasoline.
While that would make him more attractive to Democratic primary voters, it might not help him in the general election, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
"In general, I think it would reinforce current party lines and current jurisdictional lines in the Electoral College," Sabato said. "It wouldn't help him win votes in the South certainly."
And as for whether the issues of the day will still resonate with voters in 2016, retired veteran USA Today White House correspondent Richard Benedetto isn't sure. He said O'Malley's been riding the coattails of President Obama, but those coattails have frayed in recent weeks.
"Everyone tries to fight the last election, and who knows what will be the issues in 2016," he said. "Who knows whether gun control will be the same hot-button issue that gets voters excited like it does now?"