Even as Hillary Clinton prepares for the unofficial opening of her 2016 presidential bid as co-headliner, with her husband, at the final Harkin Steak Fry on September 14, another campaign is reportedly underway. No, it’s not the much-desired Elizabeth Warren or the eccentric Brian Schweitzer or the ever-steady Bernie Sanders who seems to be gradually gearing up, but instead outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, per this report from the Wall Street Journal‘s Peter Nicholas:

Despite his public reticence, Mr. O’Malley’s message to fundraisers and other recent actions show him to be making the sorts of moves that would position him for an eventual run.

He will be the keynote speaker at a Sept. 26 Democratic Party fundraising dinner in New Hampshire, the state that holds the nation’s first primary, and has dispatched a couple of dozen campaign staffers to states with competitive races in the midterms. He is planning a trip to California later in the month to raise money for a political-action committee he has used to give money to candidates and party committees in states that loom large in presidential races.

His PAC gave $5,000 to the New Hampshire Democratic Party in May and $2,500 to a New Hampshire Democratic congresswoman in July, federal election records show.

“He’s building up a series of IOUs and he’s showing a willingness to serve the party, and he thereby creates goodwill,” said Lou D’Allesandro, a Democratic state senator in New Hampshire.

If you want to understand the substantive case O’Malley’s people will be making for him, last year’s WaMo piece by Haley Sweetland Edwards remains the gold standard.

But as regular readers of this blog probably understand, the stuff O’Malley is doing right now is necessary but hardly sufficient for a presidential campaign. Doing fundraising chores and lending staff for local campaigns in the early states is expected as an entitlement, not regarded as some sort of extraordinary gesture. I seriously doubt Lou D’Allesandro (whom I know a bit) was beside himself with astonished gratitude at O’Malley’s 5k check.

All of this is to say that what O’Malley’s doing is entirely consistent with a decision to run for president in 2020 or even 2024. So O’Malley may be making an “earlier” move than anyone in the punditocracy seems to grasp.

UPDATE: Just a tip from a veteran of political controversy: If you disagree with my political analysis, it’s more persuasive to just show why I’m wrong instead of constantly drifting into dubious assumptions about my personal motives. Truth is, it would make my job a whole lot easier if one, two, five candidates rose up to offer HRC a robust challenge. I’m too old to have any personal goals associated with anybody’s political career, and the only potential candidate I actually know happens to be Martin O’Malley. I’m calling this as I see it, okay?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.