Martin O'Malley to announce 2016 plans

Martin O'Malley (D-MD) answers questions from reporters after speaking at the South Carolinna Democratic Party state convention April 25, 2015 in Columbia, S.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)
Potential Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD) answers questions from reporters after speaking at the South Carolinna Democratic Party state convention April 25, 2015 in Columbia, S.C.

It’s decision time for Martin O’Malley.

The former two-term governor of Maryland will discuss his 2016 plans on a conference call with donors Thursday night, an aide confirmed to msnbc, and he is likely to lean toward running for president. A formal announcement would follow on May 30 in Baltimore, where O’Malley lives, once served as mayor, and will reportedly sign a lease Friday on office space that will likely serve as his campaign headquarters.

RELATED: O'Malley stands by record as mayor of Baltimore

O’Malley’s political action committee sent an email to supporters Wednesday night alerting them about an upcoming "important update on his imminent 2016 plans.”

If he tells donors Thursday that he plans to run, he could take advantage of a 15-day “testing the waters” period before officially declaring, as The Washington Post first reported.

O’Malley has been laying the groundwork for a run for more than a year, traveling to early presidential states, building out a campaign team-in-waiting and pitching himself to liberal donors and activists both publicly and behind closed doors.

Any challenge to front-runner Hillary Clinton will be difficult, but the former governor sees a path for a credible liberal alternative to the former secretary of state. He has tried to contrast himself with Clinton on everything from LGBT rights to Wall Street reform, arguing that he’s the true progressive while she’s a recent convert. O'Mally has also been making a generational argument, saying the party and country need fresh leadership.

The hope is to catch fire down the road, like former Sen. Gary Hart, who ran for president twice in the 1980s before being done in by a personal scandal. O’Malley worked on both of Hart’s campaigns and has described the Coloradan as a mentor and major influence.

RELATED: O’Malley lays out vision for Democratic Party

O’Malley has hired some top Democratic strategists in the long run up to his potential announcement, including Bill Hyers, who managed Bill de Blasio’s mayoral campaign and Obama alum Lis Smith as his communications director. Last week, he hired Obama White House veteran Karine Jean-Pierre as his political director.

The left track of the 2016 primary is currently occupied by Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who announced his presidential run two weeks ago. Sanders moved up considerably in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire following his announcement, and is currently in second place behind Clinton with 15-18% support in each state, respectively.

O’Malley has been stuck at around 1-2% in the polls for more than a year, but allies are not worried, saying he has plenty of time gain steam. They note it’s important not to peak too early, a real concern in volatile run-up to the Iowa caucuses.

And supporters are confident Democrats looking for an alternative to Clinton will see O’Malley as more credible and more likely to win a general election than Sanders, the wild-haired Democratic-socialist.

Barack Obama toppled Clinton by running to her left in the 2008 Democratic primary, but Clinton appears less vulnerable at the moment in her second presidential bid.

RELATED: O’Malley takes veiled shot at Clinton on marriage

And O’Malley has faced several setbacks to presidential ambitions. Most recently, riots in Baltimore following the police-involved death of Freddie Gray have shined a light on O’Malley’s controversial policing techniques during his time as mayor, when thousands of residents were rounded up for minor offenses.

Last fall, after O’Malley was term limited out of the governor’s mansion, his hand-picked successor lost to a Republican in the deeply Democratic Maryland.