Democrat Martin O’Malley describes himself as “an operations guy,” a data-driven, hands-on politician.
As mayor of Baltimore, O’Malley dramatically drove down the violent crime rate, and then he pushed a liberal agenda of gun control, gay marriage and immigration reform through the state legislature as governor. “I’ve always liked digging into the numbers, figuring out what’s going on and doing the kind of analysis that the other guys won’t do,” O’Malley told the Washington Monthly last year.
Outside of Maryland, O’Malley is barely a blip on the political radar. Despite several high profile speeches and appearances throughout his career, his biggest claim to fame is that he partly served as the inspiration for the fictional, stats-driven mayor, Tommy Carcetti, in the gritty HBO series The Wire.
Now the cocky, roll-up-your sleeves Democrat is on a mission that many perceive as a fool’s errand: With his Maryland political career drawing to a close because of term limits, O’Malley has begun to position himself for a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. That’s the same nomination that just about everyone agrees is Hillary Rodham Clinton’s for the asking.
The former Secretary of State and First Lady has yet to say whether she’ll run for president in 2016, but a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 73 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would vote for her. Just 12 percent said they would vote for Vice President Joseph Biden, while 8 percent favored Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a leading liberal.
No one mentioned O’Malley -- or former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, another Democratic long-shot presidential aspirant who is biding his time.
O’Malley told The Washington Post last week that he simply can’t wait for Clinton to make a decision before laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign. In some of his most extensive comments to date on his aspirations, O’Malley said he has been meeting with foreign- and domestic-policy experts privately to flesh out his thinking about “a better way forward for our country.” And he said that he would make a good president “for these times especially.”
“I have a great deal of respect for Hillary Clinton,” O’Malley told the Post. “But for my own part, I have a responsibility to prepare and to address the things that I feel a responsibility to address. . . . To squander this important period of preparation because of horse-race concerns and handicapping concerns is just not a very productive use of energy.”
O’Malley, 50, isn’t the first smart, savvy politician without the ghost of a chance of winning the nomination to declare his intentions to be part of the next presidential discussion.
Paul Herrnson, executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, views O’Malley as someone more than capable of attracting Democratic support and raising money if lightning were to strike and he was suddenly catapulted into the 2016 campaign.
“I think it’s important to recognize he’s not the 800-pound gorilla in the race,” said Herrnson, who previously taught political science at the University of Maryland. “Hillary Clinton is that, should she enter. But there are other reasons for him to talk about running, and that is a possible vice presidential candidate pick, an appointment to a cabinet post, even an ambassadorship. There are many things for which he is qualified that would keep him in the public eye and enable him to run at a later date.”
Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said that while O’Malley is virtually unknown outside of Maryland, “he’s not badly positioned for a presidential candidacy.”
“He's a two-term governor of a deeply Blue state, which means he's got all the correct positions for the party activists who vote in primaries,” Sabato said yesterday. “O'Malley knows many of the party's financiers from his turn at bat in the Democratic Governors Association. He's close to D.C. so he can make news that gets covered. His media image is solid--nice-looking guy, picture-perfect family, articulate presence on TV.”
“What he lacks is something special,” Sabato added. “What distinguishes him that would grab people? And what's his base, other than a very small state?”
O’Malley served as the mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007, and made his reputation as a crime fighter who reduced violent crimes by 40 percent. The liberal Democrat was first elected governor in 2006 when he defeated the Republican incumbent, Robert Ehrlich. Four years later, O’Malley beat Ehrlich in a rematch.
As governor, he supported a law that would make some undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state college tuition, and signed a bill in 2012 that legalized same-sex marriage in Maryland. A long-time opponent of capital punishment, O’Malley signed a bill in May 2013 that repealed the death penalty in Maryland for all future offenders.
He also expanded the state’s health care rolls and championed Obamacare. However, huge technical gaffes in the roll-out of the state-operated on-line insurance exchanges created a major embarrassment for the governor. Before he leaves office, he will try to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $10.10 – the same level that Obama is advocating for the national minimum wage.
Though he covets a role in the upcoming Democratic presidential sweepstakes, O’Malley may find it difficult to be seen publicly cheering for Clinton to stay out of the race. He was the first governor to endorse Clinton over Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary contest and helped raise a lot of money for her.
O’Malley proudly endorsed Clinton’s bid at the Annapolis, Md., City Dock in May 2007, where he told the assembled reporters that "She is ready today. She is ready to lead."