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C. Fraser Smith: While eyeing presidency, don’t forget your day job

Memo to governors with presidential aspirations:

If you decide to run — while you’re still governor — remember that Job One is governor. You’re still running your state.

If you let being governor look like Job Two, someone’s going to say you’re cheating the people. Let’s be real: There’s going to be some cheating in there anyway. So much travel to do, building networks. So much socializing and schmoozing with the deep-pocket folks.

It’s a matter of limiting your exposure to criticism. Many people will applaud your ambition. But plenty of people will want to catch you moonlighting. A lot of them will relish that opportunity. You’ll be working around the clock to do both things, but the snipers won’t care.

And if things start coming unglued with Job One (being governor), they’re going to start asking how you think you can run the country when you can’t run your state. It won’t be true, probably. And it won’t be fair. But I don’t have to tell you that fair has nothing to do with it.

The underlying truth of all this might be a decent summation of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s current plight.

His highly touted health care exchange is disaster. It isn’t working. Some people — including some of his allies — say the Maryland exchange is hopeless. The governor’s deadlines for acceptability keeping falling back. Marylanders are still having trouble signing on and finding what they need.

An exchange joke is making the rounds: If you ask anyone close to the program how it’s going, they’re likely to say: “Getting better every day.” This is pretty close to what the governor himself is saying.

They’re saying that, but it’s not exactly true. One of O’Malley’s fellow Democrats, newly elected Rep. John Delaney, has an idea: Scrap the state plan and join the federal one.

Not a bad idea for the frustrated would-be signers. But it’s probably a non-starter for the governor. He has to make it work. Giving up is not something you do if you’re running for president. This might be the worst possible aspect of trying to do both jobs at the same time: You can’t do what’s right for the people who elected you and still look like presidential timber. O’Malley called in more expert help earlier this week.

Until all of this, many of us might have been inclined to say he was doing a good job. He got a gun control measure through the General Assembly. He championed marriage equality. He helped Baltimore get access to big money for aging schools.

What we have is an example of one enormous glitch crashing eight years of good work. (There was, of course, a precursor to the exchange snarl. The Baltimore City Detention Center exploded. Inmates were running the place, impregnating the guards and having their way with cellphones and other contraband.)

At least he had not offered his management of prisons as state-of-the-art — as he had for his Obamacare site.

Maybe he wouldn’t have been so bold about the website if he’d known how complicated it was.

Maybe if he’d been more attentive to Job One, Job Two wouldn’t be seem like even more of a reach.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.