Martin O’Malley entered the room to hoots and hollers at his Des Moines rally the evening after his official presidential announcement in Baltimore. The crowd was eager to see the former Maryland Governor (or perhaps just any Democratic candidate), and O’Malley returned the enthusiasm with a high-energy speech of his own.
“When a country reaches a point where it has concentrated wealth in the hands of so very few, that it’s sucking opportunity out of the homes of the many,” O’Malley said to the audience. “There are two paths for us: one is a sensible re-balancing for our common good and the other is pitchforks. This is not how our economy is supposed to work … We must make the American Dream live and true again in our country for all Americans.”
“We understood that the economy is not money, the economy is people,” O’Malley said in recounting his successes in Maryland. “We became the first state to pass the living wage, we raised the minimum wage, we made it easier for people to collectively bargain. And instead of doing less for education and less for our kids, we actually did more and made our schools the best in America five years in a row.”
O’Malley also got loud cheers for reminding them that Maryland passed marriage equality, the Dream Act, outlawed the death penalty and made it easier for people to vote. Among other topics, O’Malley touched on immigration reform, climate change and confronting problems with drug abuse and crime.
Hosted in their small Des Moines headquarters, not quite set up to handle a large event like this, O’Malley’s speech started and finished out strong and enthusiastic as he made the case that America needs a new generation of leaders.
He took just under 20 questions from the audience, and then several more afterwards from the press (which lacked many national reporters). In most of his answers, O’Malley pivoted back to his major themes, providing fewer specifics than heard at some other candidates’ events. Newly-announced candidates usually get a grace period from Iowa activists on policy minutia, but not for too long.
“I thought he gave a great speech – very uplifting, hit all the right notes,” said John Judge of the Polk County Democrats afterwards. “For being put on the spot, I think he did really well. It showed he didn’t have any canned answers.”
Whether O’Malley’s speech here turns out to be a minor footnote in Iowa Caucus history or the start of something much larger remains to be seen. He faces difficult odds to upend Clinton, the overwhelming front-runner, but many Iowa insiders think O’Malley’s profile is the best suited to do so.
O’Malley drew a solid crowd of over 200 to his Des Moines event. Attending were a mix of young people, the local political professional class, some elected officials, regular party activists (mostly older) and a handful of gadflies who come out to everything. A good turnout for an Iowa Caucus event, but noticeably smaller than those at Bernie Sanders’ Iowa events the past few days. O’Malley still has some work to do to emerge as the main challenger to Hillary Clinton.
One target for the campaign’s outreach: young people. O’Malley hopes his “New Leadership” message can attract the new generation of voters to this cause, and he seemed to have some success with that at Saturday’s events. A decent number of younger attendees filled the back of the room.
“He’s just somebody new – I almost like that he doesn’t have a ton of name recognition,” said Jordan Shaw, who came with a group of friends in their 20’s. “I like the fact that he’s not from some royal family that we have here in our country.”
“I think he did a fantastic job,” said Lyndsay Horgan, adding that she thinks he’ll have a real shot to upset Hillary Clinton. “Really the only thing holding him back is we don’t know him as well around these parts. Once he gets his name out and is able to tell how he differentiates from Hillary, he’ll do well.”
“I like that he was listening to the youth and hitting on hard topics that a lot of people like to stay away from on social issues,” Crista Righi agreed. “I think he sees us evolving and thinking of views that aren’t as important right now.”
“I see all these young people – he might be onto something there,” noted Judge.
Of particular importance in O’Malley’s youth outreach is climate change. “As I talk to young people around this nation, I rarely meet a climate denier,” he mentioned in an answer. In his speech he encouraged the country to embrace the challenge and turn it into an economic opportunity with renewable energy jobs. That seemed to resonate with some in the crowd.
“I’m a scientist – it’s huge for us,” commented Shaw. “It’s happening and we’re causing it. It’s not a debate, we need our politicians to realize and act on it – it’s huge. It’s probably the single biggest issue out there.”
Many attendees Starting Line spoke with felt it was too early to make up their minds on who to support, though nearly all were very impressed with O’Malley’s first Des Moines speech after announcing. A few, though, were ready to give the man from Maryland their backing.
“I signed a commitment card – we plan to caucus in our county for him,” said Martha Viner, of Monroe County. “I like his views on economics for the middle class, particularly his views on immigrants and his views on getting money out of politics and how we finance political campaigns.”
“He reminds me of Jack Kennedy,” Martha’s husband, John Viner, agreed.
by Pat Rynard