Sunday, January 11, 2015

"A Tremulous Cadence"

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.


  1. This is one Democrat for whom the notion of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has no appeal whatsoever. It suffices for me that he was willing to continue the Glendening-initiated policy of putting millions of dollars in the state budget bill in order to provide aid for non-public (and mostly religious) schools. I won't be voting for any presidential ballot on which his name appears.
    At any rate, I expect the odds are against him running for president whether Hillary Clinton is in the race or not. If she's in, I strongly believe he's not in. If she's not in, there are other Democrats who would seem more popular nationally and there are possible prospects for him here in Maryland. If Senator Mikulski, at age 80 in 2016, chooses to retire, he can join the cast of dozens seeking to replace her. He wouldn't get my vote, but he would seem to have a better prospect of winning that seat than winning the presidency.
    If Clinton decides not to run, Elizabeth Warren will find it hard to ignore the fervent pleas from the progressive wing of the party to jump in. And, if she does, I wouldn't bet against her for the nomination. If, despite that, Warren stays out, Bernie Sanders will surely run. He may run anyway and he's not too liberal for me. Joe Biden, having nothing whatever to lose, would also surely run if Clinton doesn't. But, between his propensity for popping off and his age, I can't imagine him getting the nomination.
    I couldn't agree more that Joe Manchin is too conservative to be a Democratic presidential nominee. He's have a better chance with the Republicans and I wouldn't be surprised if that's the party in which he winds up. West Virginia keeps getting more and more backward and Republican in outlook. And I can't see former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia as any more popular nationally than O'Malley and probably less so than a number of sitting members of the Senate.

    1. Hi Ken,

      Very thoughtful look at the field! Thanks for sharing your views.

      Although I think Biden is a serious player, his best shot was '88 and he still isn't a disciplined communicator, as you point out. Perhaps he could run on a One-Term platform; "if elected, i will focus on these three things and then retire back to Delaware." In any event, I'm sure the media would love to cover a third Biden run even though it might not be as entertaining as they would like to believe it would be.