On a sunny Saturday in Federal Hill Park in Baltimore, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley declared, “To all who can hear my voice — I declare that I am a candidate for president of the United States and I’m running for you.”
But, as Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County explained, the odds of O’Malley — or any other Democratic presidential hopeful — wresting the nomination away from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are “close to zero.”
“If you think about the possibilities out there in the Republican and Democratic parties, there just aren’t very many,” said Norris. “I think O’Malley is positioning himself to be the recipient of a movement away from Hillary from her supporters in case she does stumble.”
Waiting in the wings should Clinton’s campaign implode is a viable option. As Norris pointed out, during Clinton’s first run for the presidency, “she had the nomination locked up, nobody thought anybody could beat her. A lot of things happen in the run up to a primary.”
Clinton is only the first of several substantial hurdles O’Malley needs to overcome in order to secure his party’s nomination.
Despite having served as mayor of Baltimore, Maryland’s largest city, and as a wildly popular governor for two terms, his visibility nationally has been poor; a Washington Post poll from October found that O’Malley’s popularity in deep-blue Maryland had taken a big hit (though he continued to poll above a 50 percent approval rating in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties). His former lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown, lost spectacularly in last year’s governor’s race that was his to lose, and Baltimore, whose streets O’Malley claimed to have cleaned up using a data-driven initiative, erupted this spring after the death in police custody of Freddie Gray.
The opposition, Norris said, has and will continue to use all these points.
Then there’s the issue of positioning himself to the left of Clinton, to both distance himself from the woman he once supported and attract the votes and organizing power of those more aligned with the party’s liberal wing, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
O’Malley took an obvious swipe at Clinton — and the presidential aspirations of Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, son and brother of two presidents — in his announcement.
“Well, I’ve got news for the bullies of Wall Street,” he told the crowd. “The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families.”
O’Malley’s liberal credentials may not be enough to carry him through the primaries.
“If you look at his record as governor, he got the DREAM Act passed, he got same-sex marriage passed, all of these by referendum and all upheld by popular vote,” said Norris. “He also got the living wage passed. These are all touchstones for [progressives].”
O’Malley spoke of Maryland’s successes during his tenure as governor, and outlined a social and economic agenda that matches with progressive values: “higher minimum wage, overtime pay for overtime work, and respect for the rights of all workers to organize and collectively bargain for better wages.”
“If we take these actions, the dream will live again,” O’Malley said.
But the Jewish, self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) firmly occupies the progressive left of the party and has had a national platform from which to champion his views. Sanders is polling ahead of O’Malley in the early states and garnering large, enthusiastic crowds of grassroots volunteers. Whether that enthusiasm can be maintained remains to be seen.
What O’Malley does have going for him is 15 years of executive experience — more than Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama had under their belts when they entered the White House, Norris pointed out — and his youth. And don’t expect O’Malley to come right out and say it, but part of his campaign strategy is running as an alternative for a younger generation. At 52, he is far younger than Clinton, 67, and Sanders, 73.
Looking to build on O’Malley’s youthful energy is Generation Forward, a new super PAC founded by Damian O’Doherty, 41, a longtime O’Malley supporter, and Ron Boehmer, 25, who served as O’Malley’s spokesperson shortly before the former governor left office.
The duo, who moved into a shared office space in Washington’s Dupont Circle, earlier this week, are intentionally bucking the trend of most super PACs by targeting their messaging to millennials in early nomination states. There will be some television and online ads, said Boehmer, but expect to see more grassroots ventures that capture the authenticity millennials look for.
It’s an ambitious project, considering millennials, by and large, tend not to participate in the political process. Boehmer attributes millennials’ lack of political involvement to general cynicism about the future and the perceived inability of government to function.
“We’re trying to recapture the idea that we can build the next great generation of Americans,” said Boehmer. He added that Generation Forward is working to build on the momentum young people had for Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012.
All three declared Democratic candidates — former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee was set to announce after press time — have strong ties with the American Jewish community and Israel.
The National Jewish Democratic Council welcomed O’Malley to the campaign trail, releasing a statement that read, in part, that as governor, “O’Malley has proven that he is able to deliver on his promises. Furthermore, having been to Israel numerous times over the course of his career and having established strong business ties between Maryland and the Jewish state, Gov. O’Malley has proven to be a true friend to the American Jewish community.”