In a perfect world, at least the world according to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, his recent legislative accomplishments, his unmistakable charm and charisma, his willingness to bend in the face of adversarial challenges and his steady rise up the political ladder would portend even bigger things.
Make that one thing: President of the United States.
To be sure, he's on almost any pundit's short list regarding the Democratic nomination in 2016.
There's one problem, though, with this sunny assessment of O'Malley's career accomplishments.
And said problem is through no fault of his own.
Namely, there's a Hillary problem. As in Hillary Rodham Clinton.
You might recognize the name. She's several weeks removed from serving as the U.S. Secretary of State, four years removed from an unsuccessful race for the party's nomination ultimately seized by Barack Obama, and light years removed from her service as First Lady under former President Bill Clinton.
The ever-present chatter about her next move only intensified after President Obama requested and received a slot alongside Hillary on a cozy, cuddly appearance on "60 Minutes" a few weeks ago during which the president heaped praise on his former rival.
As James Carville, the Democratic strategist attached to the hip of the Clintons, said of Hillary in last weekend's New York Times: "She's gone to hell and back trying to be president. She's paid her dues, to say the least. . .Democrats don't want to fight, they just want to get behind Hillary and go on from there."
Conventional wisdom has it that if Hillary decides to run, she clears the field. In agreement is Mike Hanmer, research director for the University of Maryland's Center for American Politics and Citizenship.
"I do believe that the ball is in Hillary's court," he says, "so all others will have to wait."
Maryland is a progressive state by any definition, yet what O'Malley managed to do in the just-completed legislative session is remarkable even by the state's usual standards. Consider:
Gun-control measures that are among the nation's most rigid. A repeal of the death penalty. Green light for medical marijuana. Gasoline tax to improve transportation improvements.
Not only that, but O'Malley was well ahead of the wave that welcomes same-sex marriage.
Already having served as Baltimore's mayor from 1999-2007, when he instituted a tough-on-crime approach that rubbed some liberals the wrong way but in the end helped reduce violent crimes in the city, O'Malley has demonstrated a knack for compromise.
Says Maryland Republican House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell: "I think his calculation is if he stakes out the left end, he can win that primary and then maybe tack back to the center."
SO WILL HE OR WON'T HE? O'Malley, born in 1963, is coy about his future. He's asked time and time again about the future and his political ambitions and, as most folks in his position do, ducks the questions.
When contacted, his office declined to respond to questions about the future, but he dropped a few hints last April at a Democratic think tank in Washington.
"My daughters will email me when they see the honorable mentions with such tremendous leaders as Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo, who's done an outstanding job in New York, and Vice President Biden, who my daughters just adore," he said. ". . .So there's that sort of talk."
"Anything that you hope to do later in public service," he said, "always depends on your doing a good at what you're doing right now."
All of which brings us back to Hillary.
And a potential new job for O'Malley, even though it might not include the White House - just inclusion.
"If she wants to run," Maryland's Hanmer says, "then the others will largely contend for Vice President."
Others in the mix include Vice President Joe Biden. He appeared with Hillary this past weekend at a Washington event in which he declared his unyielding appreciation for the former Secretary but has steadfastly kept his options regarding a '16 run.
Also waiting are potentials candidates such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Senator Mark Warner from Virginia, and Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker.
Take Hillary out of the field, and you suddenly have hotly contested race.
"But she's almost certainly going to run," says a Democratic operative who requested to remain anonymous because of potential conflicts of interest. "In talking about O'Malley, it's almost like he's right there - but he's not, because of Hillary.
"He's been calling himself a 'practical progressive,' and he has a list of legislative accomplishments to back that up. What he's doing, I think, is positioning himself for a Democratic primary in the event that Hillary doesn't run."