"Taxes is not a totally verboten topic," state Sen. Sylvia Larsen, the Senate Democratic leader. "Among Democrats, we want to hear that balance. We want to make sure we are paying for those things for which we have a community responsibility, whether it is new schools or roads."

Larsen, like many of the political elite here, has seen a parade of potential candidates over the years. She's opened her home to host Hillary Clinton, Obama and Richard Gephardt, among others. She says she can pick a winner.

"Some just make a room," Larsen said. "They walk into a room and it bursts into light. You can just feel it."

And O'Malley? "I liked some of his phrases," Larsen said. "At this point he's not trying to light anything up."

New Hampshire was among the first states to approve same-sex marriage without a court order; O'Malley successfully pushed similar legislation in Maryland this year and is raising money to defend the law in an expected November referendum.

But he didn't mention Maryland's new law in his remarks. He said later that the omission was not intentional, and that he's discussed it in smaller gatherings here. A magazine from a gay rights group emblazoned with O'Malley's photo was distributed widely at the event.

The New Hampshire visit included a Friday night meet-and-greet with party leaders at the Wild Rover, an Irish pub in Manchester. On Saturday morning, O'Malley schmoozed during a private breakfast at his hotel before arriving in the rain to the convention.

His tour began Thursday when he flew to Wisconsin and joined such party heavyweights as Bill Clinton in stumping for the Democratic candidate in a fierce gubernatorial contest. He then stopped in Massachusetts, Romney's home state. After Saturday's speech in Manchester, O'Malley was headed to Maine to keynote its state Democratic party convention.

Additional summer travel is expected to include jaunts to Chicago, Williamsburg, Va., and Aspen, Colo.

The trips are being funded by the Democratic Governors Association, a group dedicated to keeping governors' mansions blue. He was accompanied by a combination of Maryland State House and DGA employees — though all were traveling at the association's expense, said Rick Abbruzzese, an O'Malley spokesman on the trip.

New Hampshire Democrats are girding for a pitched battle in November on several fronts: They've held the governor's mansion for the past four terms but must defend an open seat since popular incumbent Gov. John Lynch isn't seeking re-election. New Hampshire's four electoral votes are also up for grabs in the presidential race.

Campaigns in New Hampshire run into the millions because candidates must buy time in the expensive Boston media market. Party leaders made clear they will be asking for a piece of the $28 million raised by the Democratic governors group since O'Malley took charge of the organization.

O'Malley also heard some advice from officials here. Before talking to a group of reporters, he waited as state Democratic Party chairman Raymond Buckley gave final remarks. "I'd like to encourage everyone in the room to think about running for office," he said.

"I can do that," O'Malley said.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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