Standing up on a chair for one of the last times in his Iowa Caucus campaign, Martin O’Malley implored his volunteers on Saturday night to see their tough fight through on Monday. It was the end of another long day of non-stop campaigning for the former governor, who kept his personal energy high in the face of daunting prospects in the caucus.
“To those of you who have been working so hard on this campaign, I want to say thank you,” O’Malley told his packed office, full of his cadre of core volunteers who have taken on a Biden-esque level of loyalty during this campaign. “I’ve never experienced a more humble honor to fight along your side in this noble battle.”
O’Malley sounded an optimistic tone in the face of the latest Des Moines Register poll that showed him at only 3%. He claimed he and his campaign had seen positive movement in their direction on the ground, including a number of good showings in local mock caucuses where he tied for first.
“We’re seeing the conversion rate going up on the phones,” O’Malley said. “We need to beat expectations on caucus night and turn this into a three-person race … People tell me I face a tough fight, I tell them I know. We all face a tough fight. It’s the fight to give our kids a future with more security, more help and more opportunity. It is the only fight worth fighting.”
With a real challenge of remaining viable in many precincts around the state, O’Malley urged his supporters to stick together.
“When you go in there on caucus night, I want you to hold strong on that first alignment,” he said in his newest closing refrain. “I want you to hold strong for that country in your heart. I want you to hold strong for that third grade boy or girl who’s only going to be in third grade once. I want you to hold strong for that dreamer who goes to school and to work every day worried about whether she’ll come home to find her parents deported.”
It was a closing pitch that ought to help keep his supporters from straying on caucus night as much as possible, and keep the focus on grabbing delegates where they can. O’Malley’s final campaign schedule was aimed at doing just this, hitting up lower turnout counties in Western Iowa on Friday and Saturday where you only need a dozen or so people in many precincts to reach viability. Latino outreach was another final effort, targeting their voters in Denison and Storm Lake, a key area where his campaign has excelled over the other Democrats.
O’Malley has faced a long and difficult task here in Iowa over the past year, in which he’s tried to find some sort of opening against the political celebrities of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. He’s worked it the tried-and-true Iowa way, from very early outreach efforts in 2014 to help out local Democrats, to working the local party fundraising circuit in which he gave very well-received speeches, to locking in early activists and doing grassroots events all over the state. It got him some early success, but has been difficult to build upon to compete with his better-financed, better-known opposition.
Still, as his Iowa campaigning comes to and end, he’s certainly seemed to enjoy his time in the state.
“I thank the people of Iowa, I really love this state,” O’Malley told reporters after his speech. “I love that people really take their responsibility seriously, and that they’re not intimidated by polls or big money. And they understand that they have a sacred responsibility to shape the opening decision of this race … They’ve certainly treated me and my family with every kindness, and I could not be more grateful. So I can’t think of a nicer group of people to be among and with than here in Iowa.”
O’Malley’s son Will and his daughters Tara and Grace were in Iowa for the final stretch, knocking on doors throughout the state. Will has been a constant presence in O’Malley field offices during the Iowa campaign, adding a father-son connection to the campaign that the candidate reflected on Saturday night.
“I’ve seen him grow, I am so proud of that kid,” O’Malley said. “I saw him on MSNBC when they tried to call out Donald Trump, and his poise in front of the camera. And just his decency. He’s a remarkable young man. I’m very, very proud of him. I’ve seen him grow in so many ways. And I hope he’s seen me grow as a candidate. You know, he’s tough to have as a campaign manager. He’s very critical of every debate performance. But I’ve tried to learn from William, and I hope he’s seen me grow too.”
If his showing in Iowa precincts tonight remains anywhere close to his current polling, O’Malley’s campaign’s future will be much in doubt. There’s still hope that efforts from Clinton or Sanders to make him viable in precincts will boost his totals, but that’s still a big question.
Regardless of how it ends, no one can say O’Malley didn’t try his hardest here. And while most voters have looked to the other candidates this cycle, he’s certainly impacted the debate on the issues in a big and meaningful way.
by Pat Rynard