It is altogether possible that Governor Martin O’Malley – Hillary or no Hillary - will receive a good look from Democratic activists in the early states, most notably Iowa and New Hampshire.
Far from being a Celtic rock Dukakis, he has both a record of accomplishments and, importantly, a personality that could appeal to Democrats of varying ideological stripes. This is important because, since 1976, the Democratic Party has tended to nominate candidates who are, at the very least, acceptable to the progressive and moderate constituencies who dominate the action in the presidential primaries and caucuses.
Looking at the recent Democratic nominees who went on to become President:
1) In 1976, then-Governor Jimmy Carter cobbled together a coalition that included many liberal voters (who might have otherwise voted for Mo Udall or Fred Harris, to name a couple of the more prominent progressives in the field) as well as a number of moderate and conservative Democrats, despite the candidacies of the hawkish New Dealer Scoop Jackson and Governor George Wallace, among others.
2) In 1992, then-Governor Bill Clinton welded together a campaign narrative that highlighted progressive solutions while using populist, and at times rather conservative, rhetoric. With Brown firmly positioned on the left and Tsongas pushing a message of fiscal responsibility…and aided by the lack of serious alternatives (No Cuomo, No Nunn, No Gore, no Gephardt, No Jackson, etc…), Clinton crafted a winning coalition that was in a commanding position by March 17 (the date of the Illinois and Michigan primaries) and was on a virtual glide path to the nomination by April 28 (the day of the Pennsylvania primary).
3) Senator John Edwards, on paper, was best equipped to occupy this space going into the 2008 cycle. However, Mr. “Two Americas” never quite got on-track. Crushed between the Clinton machine (which was running closer to the political center) and the Obama movement (a conventionally left-of-center effort), he suspended his 2008 campaign by the end of January. The progressive/populist energy that might have fueled an Edwards candidacy was largely absorbed by then-Senator Obama, whose positioning (and superior understanding of the Democratic delegate selection process) enabled him to defeat Senator Clinton and secure the nomination.
So what is my point? It is simply this:
1) If Hillary runs, voters in the early caucus and primary states are still going to consider alternatives. Manchin is too conservative and Sanders is too liberal. That leaves two possible Clinton alternatives in the “sweet spot” – former Senator Webb and O’Malley. And Webb is out there already. Of course the entry of a Biden (unlikely if Hillary runs) or Warren (a possible game-changer) could disrupt this equation.
2) If Hillary doesn’t run, the floodgates will open and there will be multiple candidates rushing to fill the progressive/populist (but with centrist appeal) void. O’Malley will be one of many such aspirants.
So O’Malley, by saying that he is “very seriously considering running in 2016” (a statement equally true if he uttered it in 2009) but also indicating that he will decide in the spring, is putting himself in a position where he will more likely be reacting to events, rather than shaping the world around him. Which doesn’t seem very Presidential, if you ask this author.
In short, he should be viewed as ramping up his efforts, rather than adopting what feels like a “let’s-wait-and-see” approach. I know he says that Clinton’s decision will not impact his choice…but it sure seems like it.
Stay tuned, as more will follow.