Is America Ready for a Liberal Rock ‘n Roll President?
Policy + Politics

Is America Ready for a Liberal Rock ‘n Roll President?

© Brian Snyder / Reuters

After waiting on the sidelines of the democratic presidential contest for months, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is reportedly set to officially announce his candidacy on Saturday in Baltimore, the city where he launched his political career, and where he served as mayor for eight years.

At 52 years old, O’Malley represents an entirely different generation of Democrats than Hillary Clinton, the current frontrunner, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the only other Democrats in the race. At 67, Clinton is 15 years older than O’Malley and Sanders, at 73, is 21 years his senior.

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While he presents a younger face than either of his two opponents, O’Malley will likely try to strike a political position somewhere between the two of them, staking out ground to the left of Clinton, who is generally a centrist Democrat, but to the right of Sanders, an avowed socialist who isn’t even an actual member of the Democratic Party.  

His announcement will be made just days after a new poll found that liberal attitudes, at least when it comes to social issues, are on the rise in the U.S. Last week, the Gallup Poll found that for the first time, the number of Americans describing their views on social issues as “liberal” or “very liberal” was the same as those describing themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative.”

How that will translate into votes is unclear, but if the U.S. population is drifting leftward, it could be a good sign for O’Malley, whose public persona has long been designed to appeal to a more left-leaning electorate. Since 1988, he’s been the front man for the Irish-inspired rock band O’Malley’s March, in which he sings and plays banjo and guitar.

A Washington, D.C. native, O’Malley got his first taste of national politics as a volunteer for former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1982. He went on to work as field director for Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s 1986 campaign while still in law school, and went on to work for her in Washington before servings as an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore.

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O’Malley was elected to the Baltimore City Council and served from 1991 to 1999, when he decided to run for mayor. Basing his campaign in part on a promise to be tough on crime, O’Malley emerged from a crowded Democratic primary field with just over 50 percent of the vote, and went on to a resounding victory with 90 percent of the vote in the general election.

O’Malley was reelected four years later, and in 2006 he ran for governor, unseating incumbent Bob Ehrlich, and then withstanding another challenge from Ehrlich to win reelection in 2010.

As chief executive of first Baltimore and then Maryland, O’Malley made crime reduction his signature issue. Just how successful his policies were in cutting the crime rate is open to debate. O’Malley cites statistics that trumpet major improvements in Baltimore in particular, but opponents have challenged them as inaccurate.

What is undisputed is that O’Malley spearheaded the creation of a technology-centric policing system that mapped crime and other public safety issues throughout Baltimore and resulted in the police and emergency services departments becoming more efficient. The system won admirers across the country and was adopted in other cities. O’Malley would later take the system statewide as governor.

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As governor, O’Malley took a number of positions that place him squarely in what most would consider the “liberal” wing of the Democratic Party. He pressed for tax increases to fix a hole in the Maryland state budget. He also backed the legalization of gay marriage in Maryland, and signed a law allowing some illegal immigrants to benefit from in-state tuition at Maryland’s public universities.

On the issues facing candidates today, O’Malley is strongly opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which he says would “hurt middle class wages and ship middle class jobs overseas.” He is also a proponent of a vigorous crackdown on the U.S. financial sector. Those positions place him squarely to the left of Clinton, who has been vague on her opinion about TPP, and is not actively hostile to the financial services industry.

While no other Democrat can hope to compete with Clinton’s name recognition, O’Malley is at more of a disadvantage than even Sanders. Outside his home state, O’Malley is little known, and his first task post-announcement, will have to be to raise his public profile, and quickly.

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