05:43 - Source: CNN
What is Hillary's biggest liability?

Story highlights

Maryland governor laying the groundwork for a presidential run in case Hillary Clinton doesn't run

Clinton is odds-on favorite to capture the Democratic nomination at the moment

Head-to-head, O'Malley dwarfed by Clinton's name recognition, fundraising prowess

He supported her strongly in 2008 when she lost nomination to Barack Obama

Washington CNN  — 

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign with the intent of being ready should Hillary Clinton not run, a source close to the governor told CNN.

O’Malley amplified 2016 speculation when he told the Washington Post last week that he can’t wait for the former first lady and secretary of state to make a decision.

He told CNN on Monday that he was working toward offering “a better direction for our country.”

Sounds like he’s planning to go for it, right?

Not quite. O’Malley is angling to be the person who could step in should Clinton decide to forgo a second White House candidacy.

She’s the odd-on favorite in early polls to capture the Democratic nomination should she throw her hat in the ring.

“The big question isn’t what happens if she runs, it’s what happens if she doesn’t,” the source said. “In that sense, he is trying to lay the groundwork so that Democrats aren’t left without any potential candidates.”

Though, there’s always Vice President Joe Biden, whose considering a bid, and a number of other Democrats in and out of Washington who would probably take a shot.

But outside of Biden, who can probably wait a little longer than most due to his name recognition and certain advantages associated with his office, no one else outside of O’Malley is setting themselves up as he is for becoming Clinton’s understudy.

And that may be with good reason, as an O’Malley vs. Clinton race would likely be an uphill slog for the governor.

A CNN/ORC International poll this week showed 70% of Democrats support her nomination.

Note, Clinton was the heavy favorite in 2008 only to be overtaken by Barack Obama. But no one in the potential Democratic field is seen at this early moment as electrifying and transformational as Obama was that year.

Instead of stoking speculation, the source said O’Malley is being a good party man. He’s helping President Barack Obama’s initiatives, helping to build infrastructure for 2014 and supporting candidates as he travels the country.

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Looking more closely, here how it breaks down for O’Malley and what’s likely influencing his thinking around Hillary Clinton and a presidential run.

1. Numbers: If you aren’t named Hillary Clinton, the reality is that most Democrats don’t want to nominate you for President. And for O’Malley, who has little name recognition outside the Mid-Atlantic, the numbers are particularly stark.

In last month’s Washington Post/ABC News poll, O’Malley didn’t register as one of the candidates Democrats would choose for 2016. In a November 2013 CNN/ ORC International Poll, 2% of Democrats said they would like to see O’Malley nominated for President in 2016.

Stoking speculation – and traveling the country to support candidates – will certainly raise his profile. But name recognition might be only part of O’Malley’s problem.

In a Washington Post poll early last year, only 8% of Maryland Democrats – people who likely know the governor’s record – said they would back him in a hypothetical nomination in 2016. Clinton, on the other hand, was preferred by 56% of Maryland Democrats.

2. Money: O’Malley’s “O’ Say Can You See PAC” announced it raised $1.6 million in 2013, money that was used to help a number of state and local candidates.

Sure, that money is nothing to sneeze at, but fundraising off the Clinton name is substantially more lucrative.

For example, Ready for Hillary – a super PAC urging Clinton to run – raised more than $4 million in 2013.

3. Politics: If O’Malley were to run, he’d be running from the left of the Democratic Party. And while that would fit his record, there seems to little room in the race for a liberal candidate.

For the past eight years, O’Malley has led Maryland as a proud liberal. He has tightened gun laws, implemented a progressive tax code and helped legalize same-sex marriage. He also expanded the state’s health care rolls and championed Obamacare.

The governor is now, less than a year before he leaves the office, pushing for the cherry on top of his governing record: a raise of the Maryland minimum wage to $10.10.

And while Clinton would support most – if not all – of the proposals O’Malley has pursued, new polling shows the space for a liberal alternative to Clinton isn’t that big. A CNN/ORC International Poll out Monday showed only 10% of Democrats said they would want someone more liberal than Clinton.

4. History: At Annapolis’ City Dock in May 2007, O’Malley proudly endorsed Clinton’s bid for the presidency, telling the assembled media that “She is ready today. She is ready to lead.”

O’Malley wasn’t just your average supporter, either. During the 2008 primaries – which pitted Clinton against then-Sen. Barack Obama – O’Malley was outspoken and raised a substantial amount of money. He was one of the first governors to endorse Clinton.

He was even among the Clinton campaign’s “Hillraisers,” a group of loyal Democrats who funneled more than $100,000 in donations to the campaign.

The point of all this: Should Clinton run in 2016, O’Malley would likely be a supporter.

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