At a moment when everybody in Washington is talking about e-mails, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley (D) wants to talk about Wall Street reform. Indeed, while Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail address at the State Department has created a media frenzy and overshadowed other issues, the past week brought additional news in the Democratic primary: O’Malley is almost certainly running for president. And he’s determined to make his voice heard despite some pundits dismissing his ability to mount
a “credible” challenge to Clinton for the party’s nomination.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley
The swirl of controversy surrounding Clinton has not only called her inevitability into question but also given much of the media an excuse to focus on optics rather than policy coverage, which is just one of the reasons O’Malley’s emergence is a positive development. A contested Democratic primary will be good for the country, good for the party, good for democracy and good for driving issues that might otherwise be ignored into the election.
Since leaving office in January, O’Malley has been traveling the country and laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign. During recent visits to Kansas, New Hampshire and elsewhere, O’Malley has delivered a progressive populist message. Specifically, he has called for reinstating Glass-Steagall banking regulations, hiking the capital gains tax, increasing the minimum wage, raising the threshold for overtime pay and strengthening collective bargaining rights. And while he is far more comfortable discussing his policies than his potential opponents, O’Malley took a perceived shot at Clinton in South Carolina when he declared, “Triangulation is not a strategy that will move America forward.”
While he sees a path to the nomination, O’Malley understands that it will take a lot more work to shed his underdog status. After a poll showed him cracking double digits in a potential matchup against Clinton, O’Malley quipped, “Am I really up to 11 percent? Who did this poll? Was this my mom?” Regardless of his chances, though, O’Malley can make the 2016 election a much better race. Contested primaries are good both for the presidential contenders and for the country. Most Americans have little time to pay attention to the news or to political debates in Washington. Primary battles have the potential to catch fire and engage a broader citizenry. The media broadcast many of the debates. Activists can be roused.
A credible challenge, whether from O’Malley, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, former senator Jim Webb (Va.) or Warren, could help engage and excite Democratic voters. And it could force Clinton to more boldly address vital issues such as income inequality, climate change and the war on organized labor, while helping ensure that her inevitability doesn’t look like entitlement.As I've said before, the notion that contested primaries are bad for a political party's eventual nominee is not well-founded. In 2008, the contested Democratic nomination resulted in increased Democratic registration, mobilized the grass roots and made candidate Barack Obama a much better candidate. To the converse, people point to Mitt Romney being weakened by a divisive GOP nomination process in 2012. I frankly don't accept that premise about Romney. The GOP primary process, as ugly as it was, still made Romney a better candidate. Better though, doesn't mean he wasn't a deeply flawed candidate. In an increasingly populist era, the Republicans managed to nominate about the only candidate who could have made the elitist President Obama seem like a common, many of the people.