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Before keynoting the Utah Democratic Party's annual gala, former presidential candidate and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said Donald Trump ran a "fascist candidacy based on racist fear and Russian help" that "should never be legitimized."

He tweeted that message before he traveled to Utah for the $300-a-person fundraiser Saturday, joining a growing controversy between Trump and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, R-Ga., who also says Trump's presidency is not legitimate.

O'Malley followed up in Utah by telling a rally of about 150 people before the fundraiser at the Marriott City Creek that Trump-created political darkness creates opportunity for his party.

"Don't give up. Don't be disheartened. The darkness is oftentimes the great canvass against which our light can shine," he said.

O'Malley joined a squabble between Lewis and Trump that began Friday when Lewis said in a taped interview that he does not view Trump "as a legitimate president," and that the "Russians participated in helping this man get elected." Trump won the Electoral College, but lost the popular vote.

Trump fired back with tweets Saturday.

Trump added, "All talk, talk, talk — no actions or results. Sad!"

Trump's counterattack came on Martin Luther King Day weekend against a civil rights leader who actually worked with King. Lewis, 76, suffered a skull fracture in the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Ala., and was a top organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.

At least a dozen other Democratic lawmakers have pledged to join Lewis in a boycott of Trump's inaugural on Friday.

Praising that effort in his Utah visit was O'Malley, a former two-term Maryland governor who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. He dropped out after a poor showing in the Iowa caucus, but says he could be a candidate again in 2020.

"I can't really blame John Lewis for not going to the inaugural. Donald Trump's candidacy was based on the politics of division and fear, scapegoating other people because of their ethnic background or their religious beliefs. You can't legitimize that," he told The Salt Lake Tribune.

"I think all of us as thinking, rational, moral human beings have to stand up to what were often-times fascist promises that were made by Donald Trump the candidate, and do everything in our power to make sure he's not successful in implementing many of those things."

O'Malley also spoke about what went wrong for Democrats last year, and how to fix it.

"Our message of increased job creation … got lost in a torrent of appalling things that kept spewing out of the mouth of Donald Trump. We kept responding to what he was saying, and we fell into the trap of believing that our candidate could win the election simply by discrediting or disqualifying the other candidate," he said.

"We don't win elections like that as Democrats. We have to tell the positive story," he said. "We didn't do that. We had a very good economic recovery story to tell… But it got lost in this shower of tabloid excesses."

He urged Utah Democrats at the Saturday rally to keep spreading the Democratic message to family and neighbors who may like Trump now "because, believe you me, the time will come very soon when they are gong to be deeply disappointed."

O'Malley urged Democrats who do not like the state of things now to run for office and help the party because you "can't leave this to the unscrupulous, the narcissist, and — think of another word — the sexual predator" of Trump as president.

Is O'Malley running for president in 2020? "I just might be," he told the Tribune. "It's too early to make a decision like that. But leadership is important… I think you will see a lot more room for the voice of new candidates in the coming year than we had in the last year."

Twitter: @LeeHDavidson