With only the second Democratic debate coming in just over a week — and the GOP debates overshadowing anything happening on the liberal side — former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is in a conundrum.
Hillary Clinton, the perceived inevitable nominee despite a number of scandals plaguing her campaign, has been able to solidify her stance as the frontrunner. Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, has maintained his far-left base but is losing the moderate Democrats. And O’Malley? He’s been the forgotten man in a small field.
With the dropout of the party’s fringe candidates (aside from Harvard professor Larry Lessig who doesn’t factor in any polls) dropping out in recent weeks, O’Malley has a chance to stand up as a viable alternative against the ever-stronger Clinton Machine. But, he faces the problem of attacking Clinton for being too conservative, gunning for Sander’s base, or being the less scandal-ridden pragmatist in the party, despite the seemingly insurmountable lead Clinton currently enjoys.
“I really feel like the campaign started in earnest 10 days ago, after the first debate,” O’Malley has been known to say on the campaign tail.
A star in the Democratic party when he was mayor of Baltimore and later governor of Maryland, O’Malley is currently the only non-legislative candidate in the race for the Democratic nomination. At 52, he is also more than a decade younger than the other two candidates. In any other election year, this would translate into staying power for a candidate with such credentials. But this isn’t a typical election year.
With Donald Trump’s erratic statements and Jeb Bush’s suffering in the polls despite destroying his competition in the money race, and with Clinton overcoming scandal after scandal for her most recent job and Sander making waves despite proposing trillions of dollars in government spending, O’Malley has been lost in the shuffle as the typical winnable candidate.
Part of the problem for O’Malley stems from the summer of fringe candidates, as Trump and Sanders commanded headlines. Another part comes from the violence that broke out in Baltimore earlier this year before the once-mayor of the city announced his candidacy, prompting some liberals to denounce his record as a mayor tough on crime. Add in the Joe Biden soap opera of will-he-won’t-he and you have a near-impossible task of ramping up name ID among likely voters in Iowa and New Hampshire to propel a campaign into action.
He has been able to gain some traction with his anger over the reduction in debates for his party, as nine were held between Clinton, now-President Barack Obama and the rest of the slate by this time in 2008 while only one has been held this time around. And while
But, as the chance to gain traction has eluded him so far, he may finally have his moment, if he knows how to grab hold of it. And by abandoning his liberal credentials for a more populist approach may signal how he intends to use this moment. After the slate of candidates reduced to three, O’Malley gave a Trump-esque, well-received speech at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Iowa, with a poll showing him tick up from a statistical 1 percent to 7 percent shortly afterwards. He has also been racking up endorsements from local politicians in Iowa who have nothing to gain – or lose – by backing him. O’Malley also continues to give speeches to his crowds, no matter the size.
“The phrases I hear people repeat to me all the time when I give that talk on a chair across, now, 46 counties in Iowa,” O’Malley told Yahoo! News, “are things like ‘I have never heard of you before. I’m glad I came out. I thought we only had one alternative. I’m glad to know we have a choice. I’m going to learn more about you.'”
But will it translate into a substantial challenge to the nearly-crowned Queen of the Democrats? Time will only tell when he takes the stage against the other two candidates for the second Democratic debate.