SATURDAY, MAY 30th – In front of an audience of hundreds in Federal Hill Park in Baltimore, former Maryland Governor and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley announced that he will be running for the democratic nomination for the American presidency. “I declare that I am a candidate for President for the United States,” O’Malley stated, adding, “And I am running for you.”
A former Baltimore city councilman, two-term mayor and Governor of Maryland from 2007-2015, and guitarist in a Celtic rock band, 52 year-old O’Malley rose to popularity for his progressive reforms in Baltimore and and tough-on-crime policies on drugs and violence. As Governor, O’Malley was known as a policy expert focused on tangible results, signing bills legalizing same-sex marriage, raising the minimum wage, and abolishing the death penalty in Maryland.
O’Malley’s announcement speech was both economy and generation-focused, with the candidate discussing the 2008 economic downturn and portraying himself as a fresh voice of the Democratic Party speaking for a new generation of Americans. “This generation of Americans still has time to become great. We must save our country now,” O’Malley declared. “And we will do that by rebuilding the American Dream.”
The candidate faces opposition from both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who are also running for the Democratic nomination. O’Malley is entering an election cycle where Democratic elected officials and donors are overwhelmingly focusing on Clinton, who has indisputable name recognition and has cultivated an extensive network of donors and grassroots support. Nevertheless, Clinton represents Old Washington and is considered by some to be insufficiently progressive. O’Malley directly contrasted his own campaign with Clinton’s candidacy, portraying her as rooted in the past and cozy with Wall Street. “Recently the C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs let his employees know that he’d be just fine with either Bush or Clinton,” he remarked. “The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families.”
The former Governor must also compete with Senator Bernie Sanders, who many view as the progressive alternative to Clinton. While O’Malley can tout many progressive accomplishments and his aides describe him as an early advocate for progressive initiatives, he may find it difficult to portray himself as the true liberal candidate because of Sanders’ well-known leftist identity. However, he may not want to adopt such a role: according to a former O’Malley aide, the former governor will construct his own political identity. “If voters are looking for a cookie-cutter candidate to champion every progressive issue, they won’t find that with him,” the aide stated. “He’s certainly comfortable being himself.”
In addition to the competition, O’Malley faces several other challenges, from low name recognition to the loss of his handpicked successor for Governor, Anthony Brown, to a Republican. Most notably, O’Malley will have to deal with the fallout from the recent riots in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. Commenting on the riots, O’Malley called Gray’s death “heartbreaking” but stated that the riots illustrate deeper racial and socioeconomic issues in American cities. “There is something to be offered to our country from those flames,” he declared, referencing nationwide poverty and drug addiction problems that politicians have been unreceptive to.
Despite the many challenges to his candidacy and so-far low polling numbers, O’Malley is optimistic about his prospects for the nomination. “When you start off as a potential candidate for president and your name recognition is low, you just have to go from county to county, from town to town and engage people in order to change that around,” he said. Laying out his plan for grassroots campaigning and a focus on creating political change, O’Malley stated, “We have work to do. Our economic and political system is upside down and backwards, and it is time to turn it around.”