"He really has jumped out and established himself on Sunday shows this year as one of the leading spokesmen for the Obama campaign and for Democrats in general," says Bob Schieffer, host of CBS News' "Face the Nation," on which O'Malley has appeared three times in 2012.
"Coming up with people who can speak in an informed and authoritative way isn't easy, and O'Malley is one of the few who can," he adds. "He can tell us what the Obama campaign is up to with straight answers to our questions. And beyond that, he's just very, very good on television — he's a performer who knows how to get his points across. All the shows have figured out how good he is now."
But a higher profile can also make for a better target. Some critics say O'Malley spends more time using the national media to look like he's governing than actually doing the work of running the state in tough economic times. They see him as a camera-loving politician looking to the White House in 2016. But even his harshest critics acknowledge what producers and hosts see: that he is a very effective TV communicator.
"There are a lot of things that make him a good guest," says Candy Crowley, host of CNN's "State of the Union" where O'Malley also appeared three times this year.
"First of all, he runs the Democratic Governors Association, so it gives him heft. Second of all, he is regularly in touch with the Obama people, so that gives him credence," she says.
"But also important ... he's a showman. He gets what his role is. He gets what my role is. And he's game. So far as I can tell, he tells the truth and is very good at nuancing things, so that he doesn't reflect badly on the president even when he disagrees with him. He knows how to walk that line. He gives you enough so that you've got something. But he doesn't give so much that he's then seen by the Obama people as, 'OK, we don't want this guy on again.'"
Crowley adds one other item to the list of what makes the 49-year-old ex-mayor of Baltimore a favorite of the people who make Sunday morning TV: proximity. The Annapolis resident lives within 45 minutes of the Washington studios where the shows are produced. That's no small matter; such logistics count when doing a live, off-the-news telecast.
(...) Some analysts have attributed O'Malley's rise in national stature solely to his taking over as chair of the Democratic Governors Association in 2011. Yet predecessors Jack Markell of Delaware, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Brian Schweitzer of Montana did not see the same profile boost.
Like Crowley, "Meet the Press" executive producer Betsy Fischer Martin says O'Malley's role with the governors' association helped get him onto the shows, but the kind of media game he brought to their studios is what got him invited back. He's been on the NBC show twice this year.
"He's very accessible and willing to come on and engage with Republicans," she says. "The last time we had him on, he was on with Newt Gingrich, and we had a good back-and-forth on the campaign and the major issues going forward. Sometimes we get a situation where we have guests who don't want to appear with the other side. But he's willing to do that. He can be the sort of Chris Christie of Democrats, if you will."
(...) It's the mix of TV skills and political credibility that feed O'Malley's rise, analysts say. Competence on TV has to be part of a complete package, they explain, pointing to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who hosts his own show on Fox News. But he has all but fallen off the national political radar in 2012.
"While being telegenic and appealing are necessary to becoming a successful national candidate, such qualities are insufficient," says Richard Vatz, a Towson University professor of rhetoric and a longtime O'Malley watcher from the conservative side of the political spectrum.
"A viable candidate also must be perceived as a potential winner electorally, have positions consistent with the Democratic or Republican consensus and be what we in rhetoric call 'mystifying,' or persuasive in ways that are difficult to articulate," he says. "O'Malley has all of these qualities and no disqualifying ones, such as scandals in his past or enemies among major power brokers."
(...) O'Malley's most aggressive public comments recently — about the "constipation Congress" and having his "boot up Pepco's backside" — were not made on television.
One potential result of moderating his language for television: He projects a more presidential temperament. Every source contacted for this article talked about O'Malley in terms of a run for the presidency in 2016.
"He's a potential 2016 contender himself, with a lot of buzz surrounding that," Fischer Martin of "Meet the Press," said, listing another attribute that makes O'Malley an attractive guest.
Talking about the ways in which every candidate must have TV skills, CBS' Schieffer says, "O'Malley's really good at it, and I think it will serve him well. I think you're going to hear more about Martin O'Malley. I'm not saying that as advocate, because I'm certainly not that. But he has a very valuable skill. He's honed it and he's getting better at it. … We're always glad to have him, and we'll have him some more."