Martin O'Malley broadens Democrats' field for 2016 White House race

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced his 2016 presidential bid Saturday. He’s seen as an accomplished, progressive Democrat, but he’ll have to overcome Hillary Clinton’s huge lead in the polls and many liberals’ enthusiasm for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Evan Vucci/AP
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley announces that he is entering the Democratic presidential race Saturday in Baltimore, as his wife Katie looks on. O'Malley joined the Democratic presidential race with a longshot challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton for the 2016 nomination.

The race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination just got broader and more interesting.

Martin O’Malley, former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, formally tossed his hat into the ring Saturday – ideologically somewhere between former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and with an emphasis on his relative youth (52), at least compared to the other two declared hopefuls (67 and 73, respectively).

“Martin O’Malley ought to be a Democrat’s dream candidate,” Molly Ball wrote in the Atlantic in December. “In two terms as the governor of Maryland, he’s ushered in a sweeping liberal agenda that includes gay marriage, gun control, an end to the death penalty, and in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants. He’s trim and handsome; he plays in an Irish rock band; he even served as the basis for a character on The Wire.” 

At the moment, however, he barely registers in polls – 0.8 percent at the tail end of a list of seven names mentioned, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average. Even Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chaffee (expected to announce June 3) does better.

What’s more, Mr. O’Malley starts out with other big challenges, a main one being the (so far) lack of big-time political funders.

And as Politico puts it: “The run-up to his launch here could hardly have been worse, complicated in recent weeks by unrest in the city where he served as mayor and the unexpected early momentum of another Hillary Clinton challenger: Bernie Sanders…. who so far has captured the imagination of progressives looking for a Clinton alternative.”

In the Senate, Mr. Sanders caucuses with Democrats, although he calls himself a “democratic socialist” and is running for president as an Independent. For now, at least, he’s got progressives fired up, especially since Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has made it absolutely, positively, unequivocally clear that she’s not running. (She still comes in number two behind Clinton in that polling average.)

Then there’s the recent unrest and riots in the city he once led over the death in police custody of Freddie Gray, an unarmed black man picked for what seems like a minor (or nonexistent) charge. “On Saturday, protesters blaming O’Malley for ‘police brutality’ continuously attempted to interrupt the speech with shouting and whistling,” Politico reports.

None of this deters O’Malley, who – jacket off, shirt sleeves rolled up – announced Saturday under a bright, blue Baltimore sky.

“Today, the American dream seems for so many of us to be hanging by a thread,” he said in the lofty rhetoric required of candidates entering a presidential race. “It does not have to be this way. This generation of Americans still has time to become great. We must save our country now. And we will do that by rebuilding the dream.”

“This generation,” of course is his generation, not the generation of Clinton and Sanders.

Noting that Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein recently told his employees that he’d be happy with either Clinton or Republican front-runner Jeb Bush as president, O’Malley took a swipe at both.

“I've got news for the bullies of Wall Street,” he said. “The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families.”

O’Malley has been a full-time politician all his adult life. As a college undergrad (Catholic University), he worked for Gary Hart’s presidential campaign, and while in law school (University of Maryland), he was state director for US Rep. Barbara Mikulski’s successful run for the US Senate. But his lack of Washington experience could be a plus (as it is with such Republicans as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker).

“There’s a lot of hostility out there towards Washington right now,” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon told The Hill newspaper. “He could run as the anti-Washington candidate, as someone who hasn’t been tainted by Washington politics, while framing Hillary and Bernie as products of D.C. culture.”

Many toward the left end of the Democratic Party spectrum are happy to see O’Malley join the presidential fray.

"Martin O'Malley's entrance into the race will be one more factor that incentivizes a race to the top on economic populism issues,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which claims nearly one million members, said in a statement. “He has already taken strong stands in favor of debt-free college, expanding Social Security benefits, and Wall Street reform – and so far is the only candidate to be outspoken about accountability for Wall Street bankers who committed crimes and crashed our economy. The more Democrats compete to be the biggest hero on popular issues like these, the better it will be for Democrats and for America."

After his announcement speech Saturday, O’Malley headed for Iowa.

“Hillary is still the overwhelming favorite and almost certain nominee,” Steve McMahon, another Democratic strategist, told The Hill. “But in a field where she’s getting 52 percent support, that still leaves about 47 percent that someone could theoretically consolidate. The question is whether there’s enough room for someone like O’Malley and whether he can execute.”

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