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Horowitz: Don’t Count Martin O’Malley Out

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Rob Horowitz

With all signals pointing to Martin O’Malley formally announcing his candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nomination later this week in Baltimore, anyone familiar with the history of decided underdogs and long-shots capturing or coming close to capturing the nomination knows it is a mistake to prematurely write him off.  

O’Malley,  the 52 year old former two term Maryland Governor and Baltimore Mayor, hopes to follow in the footsteps of Jimmy Carter and Gary Hart—two long shots who  became formidable contenders through much better than expected performances in the first nomination contest, The Iowa Caucuses.  It is no accident that O” Malley is evidently planning to travel to Iowa right after his Baltimore announcement, according to AP.

A Gary Hart supporter in his youth, who has stayed close to the former Senator, O’ Malley brings valuable experience in how to run an effective insurgent Presidential campaign. As O’Malley told The Atlantic, “Underdogs have historically succeeded when they knew what they were about, they knew what they had to offer, and they offered it at a time when the people most needed that way of leadership.” 

O’Malley enters the race at a time when Hillary Clinton, who remains a strong favorite, is showing some vulnerability as a result of saturation level coverage of a possible nexus between contributions to The Clinton Foundation as well as speaking fees for former President Clinton and certain decisions she made as Secretary of State. This comes on top of an ongoing controversy about the fact the former Secretary used a private email server during her State Department tenure. Clinton has compounded the problems created by these issues by an ineffective media strategy, substituting attacks on the credibility of the people raising the concerns for the straightforward responses and actions that could mainly put these issues in the rearview mirror.

Admittedly, the big hit Hillary Clinton has taken in views of her trustworthiness with Independent voters and Republicans is so far not showing up with Democratic voters who are sticking with her by and large.  Still, the accretion of these problems, make it easier for O’Malley or someone else to frame the race around somebody with new ideas and a vision for the future against a frontrunner who is tied to the politics and problems of the past. This has proven to be a winning formula in past nomination battles, including Barack O’Bama’s defeat of Hillary Clinton in the 2008 battle for the Democratic nomination.  As O”Malley himself points out at a certain point, “the race quickly narrows between the once inevitable front-runner and the new and unknown candidate who emerges to offer a more compelling alternative."

As a former Governor and Mayor with an impressive record of accomplishment, O”Malley brings unmatched executive experience into the campaign, including a deserved reputation for using metrics and data to effectively drive government performance. The Atlantic reports that during O’Malley’s gubernatorial tenure, Maryland was ranked first in public school performance by Education week for 5 years in a row and twice ranked first for innovation and entrepreneurship by the US Chamber of Commerce.

O’Malley must overcome the perceptions created by the Freddy Gray case and its aftermath that he failed to solve and perhaps made worse the tensions between the police and the community in Baltimore when he was Mayor; nor was he able to make a dent in the persistent poverty that plagues a good portion of the City.  The accusations by the creator of the acclaimed HBO Series, "The Wire", and former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon that police statistics were manipulated under O’Malley, make this an even more potent negative for a nationally unknown candidate who is beginning to define himself.

But it is a good sign that O' Malley is going to take this head on, launching his Presidential campaign in Baltimore.  And a quote on his web site gives a glimpse of how he plans to handle the issue, saying with at least some validity that it can only be effectively addressed with more national action and positioning himself as the only person in the race with the first-hand experience with the problems facing our cities to know just what needs to be done..“ We have to acknowledge a hard truth – that we have built an economy that’s leaving whole parts of Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York – so many people – behind. People are not being heard – they are frustrated; they are angry; and they feel like they are not needed in our economy. Extreme poverty breeds conditions for extreme violence.”

There is no denying Martin O’Malley faces an uphill fight. If he is able to offer a compelling blueprint of where he plans to take the nation,however, there is a well-trod path from unknown long-shot to the Oval Office.  And it is a path that Martin O”Malley has studied long and hard.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


Video Wall courtesyof Edward Kimmel/ Flickr


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