Few Democrats outside of Iowa—and frankly not that many inside Iowa—are paying close attention to the state's race for governor this year. But Martin O'Malley is.
Maryland's governor has gone all in for Jack Hatch, the Iowa Democrat futilely trying to deny Republican Gov. Terry Branstad a sixth term. O'Malley has practically embedded in Hatch's campaign, attending six fundraisers and three public campaign events since mid-June. He's cut a $10,000 check from his political action committee and even dispatching staffers to help with Hatch's campaign.
While political underdogs around much of the country are suddenly having trouble getting their calls returned, that's simply not a concern for long-shots in an early presidential caucus state like Iowa, especially when the endorser is openly calculating a run for the White House.
Hatch knows it. Asked why O'Malley was so interested in his bid, the state senator didn't beat around the bush. "I think he's looking very seriously at running for president, and you have to come to Iowa to do that," Hatch said.
Hatch's campaign isn't the only one being used as a stepping stone for another politician's national ambitions. Candidates from both parties in all sorts of low-profile or noncompetitive races are receiving outsize attention from possible White House contenders. Without having to officially declare their own intentions, presidential prospects can team up with midterm candidates to meet donors, activists, and voters in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.