INDIANOLA, Iowa — Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a 2016 presidential prospect, began forging an early – and therefore tricky – path into presidential proving ground Iowa on Sunday.

Appearing at Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's annual steak fry, O'Malley dismissed the awkwardness that comes with trying to make a good first impression on Democratic activists in the leadoff caucus state, even as fewer than 60 days remained in Democratic President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.

"That's not what I'm doing here. I'm here because my friend Sen. Harkin asked me to come," the Democrat told reporters before speaking to hundreds of Iowa Democratic activists.

O'Malley was the keynote speaker at the Iowa Democrat's annual fundraiser, owning an important and well-worn national stage for White House aspirants while also rallying support for Obama's re-election in swing state Iowa.

"Let us return to the urgent work of creating more jobs, more security, more opportunity and a better future for our children," O'Malley said in closing his 20-minute speech to several hundred Democrats at a county fairgrounds south of Des Moines. "And let us together, Iowa, move forward and not back by re-electing Barack Obama president of the United States."

Vice President Joe Biden will be in Burlington, in the southeastern part of Iowa, to make that same argument Monday. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan will offer a rebuttal Monday in the state capital, Des Moines.

Jim and Kathy Young, Democrats from Solon in eastern Iowa, said O'Malley sounded like a presidential candidate.

"He sounds like a rising star," said Kathy Young. "I think we'll be hearing from him again."

O'Malley, who is chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said he was in Iowa to "help the people of Iowa elect a new Democratic governor in 2014." Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has not yet said whether he plans to seek re-election in two years.

Yet, O'Malley also introduced himself to Iowa's Democratic faithful by telling his family story, including his father's World War II military service, and his policy profile, such as endorsing the referendum on the ballot in Maryland this November to legalize gay marriage.

O'Malley already had made some influential friends. Signs that read "Iowa AFSCME, Governor O'Malley" adorned the stage at the fairgrounds.

O'Malley is popular with AFSCME – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – in Maryland, Iowa Democratic officials said, and had reached out to Iowa's public employees union.

O'Malley formed a political action committee this year and last week hired a former Obama campaign aide to advise him.

He met with the Iowa delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., last month. And Sunday he heaped praise on Harkin, a five-term senator and pillar among Iowa Democrats.

Other presidential prospects who have appeared at the Harkin event during its 35-year history include Obama in 2006 and John Edwards in 2005.

And while it's still more than four years until the 2016 election, O'Malley is not the first would-be presidential prospect to begin reaching out in Iowa before one election is over.

Republican Mitt Romney headlined an Iowa GOP dinner in October 2004, a month before George W. Bush was re-elected. Romney, now the GOP's presidential nominee, unsuccessfully sought the 2008 nomination.

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  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Joe Biden, Barack Obama

    Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama wave to the delegates at the conclusion of Presdident Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

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    US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (C) wave after Obama's acceptance speech at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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  • From left, Michelle Obama's mother Marian, Malia and Sasha Obama, their mother Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Biden, listen to President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama claps on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: First lady Michelle Obama hughs Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama hugs his wife First lady Michelle Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama waves on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, and First lady Michelle Obama watch as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama walks on stage to join First lady Michelle Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama walks on stage to join First lady Michelle Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama walks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden waves with his wife Second lady Dr. Jill Biden after speaking on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hugs his wife Second lady Dr. Jill Biden after speaking during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Vice President Joe Biden waves as he appears on stage to address the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)