O'Malley's March

[ Posted Thursday, May 28th, 2015 – 17:18 UTC ]

Two things are worth noting here, before I jump in to taking a serious look (as I am doing for all announced presidential candidates from both parties) at the chances Martin O'Malley has of becoming president.

The first is that O'Malley comes with a built-in headline, which you'll notice I am using today. I have to warn you -- you'll be seeing a lot of this headline in the next few days, as the media covers his official entry into the race for the Democratic nomination for president. There's a reason all us pundits are going to be echoing the same headline, and that reason is: "O'Malley's March" is the name of a Celtic rock band that Martin O'Malley is a member of (and, assumably from the band's name, leads). So "O'Malley's march to the nomination" is going to be an early theme, because (after all) what pundit can resist a politician with a built-in headline? I certainly can't, that's for sure.

The second thing worth noting is that I am jumping the gun by profiling O'Malley days before he actually announces. The reason for this is that this is where it best fit into my writing schedule. Tomorrow's Friday (and so will be another Friday Talking Points day), and next week I'll have the monthly Obama Poll Watch column as well, so I had the choice of either addressing O'Malley's upcoming weekend announcement days early, or days late. This is what I chose.

OK, enough trivia, let's get on with considering Martin O'Malley and his chances for victory.


Martin O'Malley

Martin O'Malley is a former mayor of Baltimore and former two-term governor of Maryland. He is one of those politicians who seemingly has been aiming for higher office his whole life, much like Bill Clinton or Jeb Bush (just to name two easy examples). Indeed, he has made no secret for approximately the past four years that he'd be mounting a run for the 2016 presidential ticket. O'Malley has thus made a name for himself within Democratic Party circles, but is still relatively unknown outside of the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

This may be an asset for O'Malley, since he'll have the opportunity to make a good first impression on most everyone in the country (unlike Hillary Clinton, who most people already regard as a known quantity, for better or worse).

O'Malley does have a record to run on, and he will (of course) be presenting it in the best light as he can. He was involved with the Baltimore city government (first as city councilor then as mayor) from 1991 through 2007, meaning the city's progress during that time forms the foundation of O'Malley's own political accomplishments. O'Malley then became governor of Maryland, a position he kept until he was term-limited out in the 2014 election.

Although Maryland is a pretty true-blue Democratic state, O'Malley was most recently in the news as a result of the 2014 election, since his own hand-picked successor failed to succeed him, and the governor's office went to a Republican instead (although it was a Republican "wave" election year, this was one of the bigger upsets in the whole country). This, of course, wasn't an election loss for O'Malley himself, but will doubtless be brought up by other Democratic candidates as a possible weakness electorally (the specter of losing Maryland's Electoral College votes will be raised, in other words, by his opponents).

Since the Democratic primary fight is going to be a much smaller one than over on the Republican side, it becomes a lot easier to compare the candidates politically. Martin O'Malley will likely fit comfortably somewhere in between the two announced Democrats, somewhere to the left of Hillary Clinton and somewhere to the right of Bernie Sanders. This pigeonholing might get a little more difficult when other Democrats decide to jump in the race, as it may be tough to measure O'Malley against the likes of Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee, and (possibly) Joe Biden, but for now O'Malley is somewhere between the two ends of the Clinton/Sanders spectrum.

O'Malley may face a problem defending his record in Baltimore, since the city has seen some recent violent protest over police actions. If the protests return this summer, it could mean O'Malley is forced to spend more time defending his record than he initially planned on doing. His record in Baltimore is somewhat complex on the issue of "law and order," as he initially ran for mayor promising to reduce crime. He did accomplish a reduction in crime in the city while mayor, and used a pioneering computer tracking system ("CitiStat") for better allocation of police resources. This not only reduced crime (although by how much is in question), but also improved the city's finances to where it was actually running a budget surplus. But O'Malley's priorities for the police came into question after the recent Baltimore riots, since critics say that his model was at least partly at fault for the police practices which so obviously are now seen as problematic. But O'Malley did get results in Baltimore. He wasn't completely successful, but did achieve major gains in both crime levels and in the quality of Baltimore schools.

As governor, O'Malley also had some successes he'll be able to brag about on the campaign trail. But, again, some of his actions and statements generated a bit of controversy which may carry over, since they were about issues of national importance. Although Catholic, O'Malley signed a bill legalizing gay marriage, directly standing up to his own church's leaders in doing so. When the Archbishop of Baltimore urged O'Malley to not support the bill, O'Malley wrote back: "I do not presume, nor would I ever presume as Governor, to question or infringe upon your freedom to define, to preach about, and to administer the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. But on the public issue of granting equal civil marital rights to same-sex couples, you and I disagree." This is an impressive modern restatement of the "separation of church and state" idea, one of the best I've ever read, in fact. Governor O'Malley also ended the death penalty in Maryland (something on which he does see eye-to-eye with the Catholic Church).

But his biggest problem will be on immigration, because of his own inconsistency on the issue. During a debate in the 2010 governor's race, O'Malley spoke up in favor of the federal government getting tough towards illegal immigration. But then when the crisis at the border with Central American children erupted last year, O'Malley took a different position by chastising the Obama administration for deporting them, saying: "It is contrary to everything we stand for to try to summarily send children back to death." He also made news for refusing to accept some of the children at a facility in Maryland, which the White House called hypocritical. O'Malley disagreed, saying he instead had just warned that one particular facility had "hateful graffiti" outside it and would therefore not have been the best place to send them.

This leaves open where O'Malley will position himself on immigration for his 2016 run. Hillary Clinton has already staked out a pretty strong stance on the issue, saying she would go beyond even what President Obama is now trying to do, and Bernie Sanders has yet to take a strong stance either way (he didn't mention immigration at all during his campaign rollout event). O'Malley will have to clearly and strongly state his own position on what he'd do to reform America's immigration system, because he's already raised some questions as to what his policies would be.

O'Malley is going to attempt to run a campaign focused on economic populism, but then again so are all the other Democrats in the race. Because all the candidates are using almost identical rhetoric on the issue of inequality, each candidate is going to have to be very specific about how, exactly, they'd combat rising inequality -- what programs would they champion, what priorities would they set in the tax code, and so forth. The Republican nomination race is going to have the same problem -- differentiating between awfully close political positions -- but it's going to be a little lopsided on the Democratic side due to Hillary Clinton's dominance in the polling. The rest of the Democrats, to put this another way, are going to have to stake out positions to contrast themselves from Clinton, and attempt to "pull her to the left" (as the media will no doubt put it).

There is a real question, though, as to how polite or how vicious this intraparty battle will be on the Democratic side. While Bernie Sanders is definitely running out of strong conviction on his positions, the other entrants in the race may pull their punches a bit when taking on Clinton, in the hopes of either (1) being on the short list for Hillary's vice presidential running mate, or (2) securing a powerful position in her cabinet. Sanders is really the only candidate who likely won't take this into consideration (during a debate, say), but O'Malley (and the others) may decide it's better for their own political future to go a bit easier on Hillary and not launch any blatant full-frontal attacks.

This isn't Martin O'Malley's problem alone -- it'll also be Webb's and Chafee's as well. All of them will be running with the secret hope that Hillary Clinton somehow stumbles on her path to the nomination (although, of course, they will never admit this publicly), leaving the frontrunner position open. Absent any major collapse in Hillary's popularity, however, O'Malley (and the others) will be fighting even to achieve name recognition with most Democratic primary voters -- something Clinton will not have to do at all. If O'Malley can both differentiate himself from Clinton and the other "non-Clinton" candidates by championing one or two issues successfully, and if Hillary does stumble somehow, then he has as good a chance as anyone of emerging as the Democratic nominee. That's a steep hill to climb, though, as the conventional wisdom is probably right for the Democratic nomination race -- it's Hillary's to lose, this time around.

If O'Malley did defy expectations and become the Democratic standard-bearer for 2016, his chances against the Republican nominee are anyone's guess. A lot would likely depend on what made Hillary fail -- how O'Malley managed to beat her. My guess is that this is going to be an open question right up until O'Malley becomes the Democratic frontrunner, because it is likely that the national opinion pollsters will not even bother asking questions like: "Who would you vote for, Jeb Bush or Martin O'Malley?" until Hillary slips significantly in the polls. My guess is he'd do about as well as any other Democrat against the Republican field, but I say that with absolutely nothing to back it up other than my gut feeling. I do think it'd be interesting to see O'Malley warming up a crowd by playing guitar and banjo (how cool would that be -- a banjo player in the White House?), but have no idea how it would actually go over, out on the hustings. Maybe, if the stars align perfectly, we could see a "battle of the bands" between Huckabee and O'Malley? Now that would be worth watching on television! But I digress.

Martin O'Malley is not just entering the Democratic primary race, he also will be entering the stage of national politics by announcing his candidacy. He may not win this time around, but he may also be around for more than just one election cycle. If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination and then goes on to lose the White House, O'Malley will likely be back in 2020. Right now, however, he seems to be running mainly to capture the vice presidential slot on Hillary's ticket.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


10 Comments on “O'Malley's March”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    All of them will be running with the secret hope that Hillary Clinton somehow stumbles on her path to the nomination

    I know I don't have a track record on Hillary predictions, but I am going to make one now..

    Once Hillary is forced out of the comfort of her "say-nothing-and-nod-empathetically tour", once she has to actually enter an area that she doesn't 1000% control, she will implode...

    Let's face it. Hillary is a lousy politician.. She has none of the charm or empathy of Bill. She is a complete dunce when it comes to reacting to new and unexpected situations.. And she is the most arrogant and condescending politician in the history of politicians.. And THAT says a lot...

    So, my prediction is that Hillary will self-immolate.. The only question that remains is will she do it before the primary ends or after...

    As I indicated previously, an O'Malley Dem Candidate would actually make this a race... For me anyways...


  2. [2] 
    TheStig wrote:

    O'Malley seems to have a lot of political options. He might be playing a long game and looking more towards a 2024 run for President rather than the VP slot on Hillary's ticket and a chance to run against a Republican incumbent in 2020 should she lose. He would be 64 YO in '24, not exactly old, and would have 8 years to build his resume. Doing that from the VP office might be the best way. Senator Cardin of MD is currently 72 YO, leaving O'Malley a reasonable chance for US Senate path in '18 (should Cardin choose to retire) building to a White House run in '24.

    O'Malley's March on YouTube. Reminds me a bit of Pogues, but, of course, much less spittle ("first four rows will get wet") and cursing.

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    O'Malley's biggest plus is that he is virtually scandal free....

    With O'Malley, we wouldn't have to endure 16 months of Democrats throwing up their hands and saying, "Oh god, what has he done now!!??"

    That alone should make him attractive to Dems...


  4. [4] 
    dsws wrote:

    I predict that we'll nominate Martha Coakley, resulting in the election of Scott Brown. The question is who gets to play the role of Scott Brown.

  5. [5] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Correction to 2

    Should read:

    Doing that from the VP office might NOT be the best way.

    If my typing is bad, my hand writing is even worse.

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:


    I can't decide if you are delighted that Hillary will run because she is weak, or that you strongly suspect she's the most powerful contender and hope against hope something, anything, derails her. Prose has a body language and I read yours as indicating the latter.

    As I see it, the incessant and clumsy scandal mongering by the Republican Faithful is not likely to knock her out in the primaries and very likely to inoculate her in the general election. If the Republicans had something genuinely lethal, they would keep it under their hats until October of '16. Tora, Tora Tora. War of attrition favors the stronger side, and fundamentals tells me the Dems are favored fairly strongly in the Presidential contest of '16.

    I don't see secret weapon, I see classic mud slinging, or maybe throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks. Maybe something will, but Clintons know how to manage scandal and to be absolutely agnostic, how to push the boundaries of law and propriety...which I think we can agree is pretty common among politicians and the upper crust of society that feeds them.

    Respect for Swift Boating is why the Clinton's are so lawyer like in their release of information. Let your opposition publicly drill dry holes. It's not a strategy for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, but impeachment made Bill more popular, not less.

    I could be wrong, but I don't think so. We'll have fun finding out. :)

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    As I see it, the incessant and clumsy scandal mongering by the Republican Faithful

    You mean like the incessant and clumsy scandal mongering against Bush by the Democrat Party Faithful??

    I mean, com'on! College-style Hazing is a "scandal"???

    I really see no difference between the Dems and their Bush/Cheney scandals and Repubs and their Clinton Scandals..

    The Clinton scandals actually have merit because they violate Dem Party platform planks...

    Imagine if a GOP POTUS would have been caught boffing a young intern in the Oval Office..

    If the Republicans had something genuinely lethal, they would keep it under their hats until October of '16.

    By your own admission, nothing the GOP has to date is "lethal"...

    So, maybe the GOP is actually following your own advice, eh??

    could be wrong, but I don't think so. We'll have fun finding out. :)

    That we will.. I have a feeling that once Hillary is the bona fide and named Dem Candidate, the big guns from the GOP are going to come out...

    Per your advice.. :D


  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    or that you strongly suspect she's the most powerful contender

    I don't think she is the most powerful contender.. She is a very flawed candidate. If there was a GOP candidate that had the baggage and skeletons that Hillary has, ya'all would laugh yourself silly at such a ridiculous candidate..

    Am I wrong???

    and hope against hope something, anything, derails her.

    Abso-frakin'-LOUTLY I hope something derails her...

    She doesn't DESERVE to win.. She doesn't even deserve to run... She is the epitome of everything that is wrong with this country..

    Everything ya'all slam Republicans for, every evil nasty thing ya'all say about Republicans can be found in Hillary Clinton...

    The fact that she is even the Dem Candidate says a lot about the Democrat Party...

    And none of it is good...

    If Democrats had even the SLIGHTEST bit of integrity within them, they would resign Hillary Clinton to where she belongs (the trash heap of history) and nominate someone who, from all reports, is an honest and decent American...

    Hillary can't win without Independents.. And almost 2/3rds of us Independents don't trust Hillary whatsoever..

    And ya'all honestly think she has a shot??


  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    He was involved with the Baltimore city government (first as city councilor then as mayor) from 1991 through 2007, meaning the city's progress during that time forms the foundation of O'Malley's own political accomplishments. O'Malley then became governor of Maryland, a position he kept until he was term-limited out in the 2014 election.

    Considering how bad Baltimore's gotten with the crime spree and all the murders, etc etc, I am not sure O'Malley bragging about Baltimore will help his campaign..

    Granted, he never threw cops under the bus and called a spade a spade (or in this case, a thug a thug), so he has points with me...

    But, in the here and now, Baltimore is nothing to brag about...


  10. [10] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    "O'Malley's March" is the name of a Celtic rock band that Martin O'Malley is a member of (and, assumably from the band's name, leads)."

    He sings and plays guitar and shows off for the girls by wearing sleeveless T-shirts. It's summer. He should do that this weekend. He might really get the media's attention. He needs to improve his name recognition or never mind.

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