Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks during the Democratic Governors Association luncheon in Washington. (Evan Vucci, Associated Press / December 1, 2010)

President Barack Obama no longer needs Gov. Martin O'Malley as a top campaign surrogate, and the Democratic Governors Association is set to elect someone else as its chairman on Monday when the group meets in Los Angeles.

But neither development is likely to push Maryland's governor off the national stage.

"Once you achieve a certain stature, which I believe O'Malley has, then you are going to remain a sought-after speaker, surrogate, television guest," said Anita Dunn, a national political consultant who was an adviser to the Obama campaign.

Time in the national spotlight could be helpful if O'Malley seeks higher political office when he leaves the governor's mansion in two years. It also opens him to criticism at home, where Republicans and some Democrats have questioned whether he's paying enough attention to the state.

And if he keeps up the national pace set this year, questions about his next move will only intensify — along with grumblings about his perceived priorities.

The governor has traveled beyond the state's borders more than two dozen times since January to work on behalf of national Democrats, including trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, key early primary states in the 2016 presidential race.

He touched down in 19 states between January and September.

Producers at the Sunday morning talk shows put O'Malley in front of their cameras as often this year as the Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, by The Baltimore Sun's count.

In an interview last week, O'Malley said he will stay involved with the Democratic governors group after stepping down as chairman and will still be available to represent the party nationally.

"Washington, D.C., is still 25 minutes down the road on a Sunday morning," he said. "I suppose if they call and ask, I will."

Over the next year, the governor is expected to lead fundraising for the governors group. The association will be gearing up for 2014, when 36 state-level elections will be held.

Maryland's Republican Party is ready for the governor to keep flying around the country. State Republicans track his travel schedule; when he makes a partisan appearance elsewhere, they send talking points about tax increases under O'Malley to Republicans there.

They also mark out-of-state appearances on a Google map titled "O'Malley's March to the White House" — a shamrock is posted on each state the Irish-American governor visits.

"He's the governor of a major state, and he's trying to balance his national ambitions with his day job," said David Ferguson, executive director of the Maryland GOP. "Where has he chosen to spend the most time? How many more times will he be in New Hampshire?"

Some Democrats also question his focus.

"I don't think he's putting everything he's got into governing as opposed to campaigning," said state Comptroller Peter Franchot, a regular critic of the governor. "I think he's paid a huge price."

Franchot noted a recent Sun Poll showing that only 30 percent of Maryland Democrats would support O'Malley for president.

"It's understandable, because I think there's a price to pay for all the out-of-state time," he said.

O'Malley says such criticism has quieted because the state has enjoyed stability through his travels.

"If we were not prepared for [Hurricane] Sandy, if we were losing jobs instead of creating them, if our schools were slipping in the rankings, if crime was up or if our bond rating was down, then I might have heard more criticism," O'Malley said.