O'Malley Joins 2016 Presidential Race

O'Malley Joins 2016 Presidential Race
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BALTIMORE, Md. – Martin O’Malley had a lot of competition Saturday as he announced his candidacy to become the president who will “rebuild the American dream.”

Neighborhoods of the city he once governed as mayor are in enough upheaval over race and violent policing that his boasts of being tough on crime and resolving Baltimore’s urban problems have been undercut. And implicit in his campaign launch was the acknowledgement that Hillary Clinton, the rival he paints as an elitist Democratic dinosaur, is nonetheless outpolling him by 51 points in the RealClearPolitics average.

A modest outdoor crowd in Federal Hill Park downtown was small enough to worry campaign staff members, who had sent out thousands of emailed invitations, hoping for something more robust than about 300 people, some of them passersby. And there were glitches: a short campaign video began playing on a huge screen, but went black when the audio malfunctioned.

And the Saturday temperature was searing enough to make “melting pot” a literal description for the crowd, beyond the 70 people standing behind the former Maryland governor (one woman wearing an American Indian headdress)to represent the nation’s diversity.

Behind barricades, a handful of protesters used whistles, shouts of “black lives matter,” and “zero tolerance,” plus handmade signs to create some counter-messaging during O’Malley’s 25-minute speech. The police and security personnel left them alone.

Standing next to his wife, Judge Katie Curran O’Malley, and their four children, the third Democrat to enter the 2016 race could hear the racket behind the bank of television cameras, but neither the mischief-makers nor a buzzing drone overhead broke his concentration.

O’Malley delivered his script with enthusiasm, at one point giving up on the teleprompter, unreadable in the sun’s glare, to carefully shuffle loose pages of text with an iron grip as a breeze threatened to carry his words into the trees.

Rather than retreat from Baltimore’s troubles, O’Malley, 52, presented himself as a liberal Democrat who understands the needs of urban America, immigrants, and working people who fear that the nation’s largest financial institutions, the corrupting power of money in politics, and divided government work against them.

“Conditions of extreme and growing poverty create conditions for extreme violence. We have work to do,” O’Malley said. “Our economic and political system is upside down and backwards and it is time to turn it around.”

Hours after his announcement, O’Malley headed to Iowa for stops in Davenport and Des Moines, hoping to improve his political fortunes in the Midwestern state that holds the first Democratic Party caucus next year. From Iowa, he plans to head to New Hampshire, where challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist-turned-independent-turned-2016 Democratic presidential candidate has been touting policies that also hew to the left of Clinton.

To move into contention, O’Malley will need to persuade voters such as Shannon Tomlinson, 31, a native of Baltimore who came to hear the former mayor announce his White House bid. She voted for him for governor, and told RCP she’s begun to sour on Clinton after initially backing her.

“You don’t know from one minute to the next what she stands for. It’s too sketchy,” Tomlinson said. “I was pulling for her, but with all the controversies, the money, and Benghazi, her server, she can’t find the emails. I’m undecided.”

But Bill Clinton is a different question, and to Tomlinson, Hillary Clinton has to win the presidency on her own, and can’t expect to do it by playing only to gender politics. “I love him,” she said. “To me, he’s the best president we ever had.”

David Brehm voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, but for Barack Obama in 2008. Standing in the shade with a friend, Brehm said he moved to Baltimore in February for his job and decided to walk a few blocks to hear O’Malley. Brehm describes himself as an independent voter who remains undecided about the 2016 contest and unimpressed by the ever-growing GOP field. “There’s no one I really feel that I can connect with,” he said of the Republicans in the race.

Hillary Clinton, he added, is “a very polished politician, who knows what she’s doing.” That knowledge could be “very useful” when it comes to international policy, he said. “But I wonder how connected to the people she is.”

And O’Malley?

“I heard a lot about rebuilding the American Dream,” Brehm said. “A lot of good words.” 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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