Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley bubbled up briefly in the national political conversation during the Democratic primary race of 2015 and 2016. That didn’t last very long, considering that in an already small field he never gained any significant traction in the polls and proceeded to drop out immediately after the Iowa caucuses. With such a poor showing, one might think that Mr. O’Malley would be looking forward to a comfortable retirement and spending more time with his family, but a new report from Politico shows every sign that this isn’t the case. It’s still ridiculously early to be thinking about the 2020 election for most of us (and the very suggestion might drive some readers off a cliff) but it seems that O’Malley has been doing some polling back in Iowa, hinting that he’s strongly considering making another grab for the brass ring.
The leadership PAC of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley commissioned a Public Policy Polling survey of the first-in-the-nation caucus state earlier this month, according to a copy of the results obtained by POLITICO.
The poll, which shows O’Malley at 18 percent of Democratic caucus-goers in a field of nine potential candidates if the contest were held today, also asked the Iowans about New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Housing Sec. Julian Castro, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. “Not sure” got 32 percent of the vote.
O’Malley — who ran against Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the 2016 nomination before dropping out on caucus night after earning less than 1 percent of the vote — was joined at the top of the poll by Booker, who was at 17 percent. Neighboring Senator Klobuchar, who’s been a frequent visitor to Iowa over the years, got 11 percent. All other candidates were under 10 percent.
Considering that the poll was done by O’Malley’s own PAC, we should probably take the results with at least a small grain of salt. Even then, he barely managed to squeak out a first-place finish over Corey Booker and neither of them could crack the 20% mark. Considering how much time O’Malley spent in Iowa during his last attempt his name recognition also remains conspicuously low.
Is O’Malley someone who the Democrats might be seriously looking to in 2020? Or is this just some delusional scrambling by someone who is still bitter over the results of the last race? At least on paper I always thought that he was clearly a plausible choice. He was a popular enough blue state governor who had also served as the mayor of a fairly large city (Baltimore). He even had some limited legislative experience having served on the City Council there. His liberal credentials were well-established, at least as such things were viewed among establishment Democrats prior to the 2016 massacre.
But that may prove to be precisely his biggest challenge. The landscape has changed for progressives and the rise of hard left agitators like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have soured the base on old-school candidates. O’Malley is far more from the Clinton mold and not generally seen as being in touch with the slash and burn activists who now seem to run the party. (It’s also worth noting that in his own Iowa poll, neither Sanders nor Warren were included as choices, possibly explaining how Corey Booker did so well.)
O’Malley might have done better in the last primary had Hillary Clinton not so completely dominated the field. Most of the other prominent Democratic benchwarmers decided to stay home and clear a path for Hillary, so in the end it really just came down to her and Bernie Sanders, with O’Malley doing little more than occupying space. If we could rerun the 2016 Democratic primary sans Clinton then Martin O’Malley might do quite well. But as things stand now I would imagine that even Keith Ellison would fare better than the former Maryland governor. We also shouldn’t forget that the Democrats are still waiting for the “historic first female president” to arrive. Anyone with a Y chromosome is going to be at an additional disadvantage and that includes O’Malley.