- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2015

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has spent almost as much time campaigning in Iowa as his two rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination combined — courting county party leaders at lunches and dinners, strumming his guitar for the crowd at a Dubuque picnic and bending the ear of any potential caucusgoer.

In a state that values retail politics, Mr. O’Malley has run laps around former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, holding 130 events over 47 days in Iowa, yet has been unable to break through to voters.

In the latest Quinnipiac University poll of the state, Mrs. Clinton leads with 51 percent, Mr. Sanders is nipping at her heels with 42 percent and Mr. O’Malley barely registers with 4 percent support.

“This really is the biggest question of the campaign: Why isn’t O’Malley doing better?” said state Sen. Tony Bisignano, Des Moines Democrat. “He’s articulate, he’s a nice guy, he’s good on the issues, he’s got a good track record, and he’s got everything you would think it would take to compete at a much more successful level than what he’s done.”

The answers range from lack of money to lack of political space in an election where Republican candidate Donald Trump is absorbing most of the attention, leaving few chances for anyone else in either party to make waves.



“The thing about O’Malley is that 49 percent of Iowans don’t know enough about him to decide if they’re for him or not,” said Tom Henderson, chairman of the Polk County Democrats in Des Moines, who has endorsed the former governor. “Everybody who meets him likes him. Whether he has enough time to get around and meet the voters, that’s the question. The more he’s available in the state of Iowa, the more his numbers could change.”

Mr. O’Malley is certainly making the effort.

In November, he reshuffled his campaign, sending staffers from his Baltimore headquarters to Iowa.

He is trying to make up for a huge financial disadvantage, having raised a paltry $1.3 million in the third quarter of this year, compared with Mrs. Clinton’s $30 million and Mr. Sanders‘ $26 million.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders have used their funds to build campaign juggernauts in the state. Both have roughly 80 paid staffers, hundreds of volunteers and more than 20 offices. Mr. O’Malley’s team consists of about 30.

The former Maryland governor also is lagging in paid ads. Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has spent at least $1.5 million on TV ads in the state, Mr. Sanders‘ has dropped $2 million for ads in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Mr. O’Malley’s campaign has spent none.

“O’Malley has considerably less resources. He just can’t afford to build the organization that both Clinton and Sanders have,” said Christopher W. Larimer, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa. “I can’t recall the last O’Malley radio or television ad I saw or heard. Right now, only two candidates are dominating the conversation, and that’s Sanders and Clinton.”

Earned media also is something Mr. O’Malley has had a hard time attracting. This cycle, Mr. Trump’s Republican campaign has received more nightly news attention than all of the Democratic campaigns combined, said Andrew Tyndall, publisher of The Tyndall Report. Mrs. Clinton has had 113 minutes of airtime, Mr. Sanders has clocked in 10 minutes and Mr. O’Malley has had none.

Still, in a state where former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania came from behind to win the 2012 Republican caucuses with little money and a 99-county tour that focused on wooing party leaders and obtaining committed caucus-goers, Mr. O’Malley’s team sees hope.

“With about 55 days before the Iowa caucus, it’s hard to predict who’s going to turn out,” said Democratic activist Kurt Meyer. “In rural precincts and counties like mine, seven or nine people showing up could make all the difference. If O’Malley gathers some respected community leaders, and they show up that night and are able to rally for him, you may have some Clinton or Sanders people be pulled over for him. That’s just the way it goes in Iowa.”

Although Mr. O’Malley has won endorsements from more than 81 public officials in Iowa, even some of them believe it’s going to be an uphill climb for the former governor.

“O’Malley speaks clearly and distinctly to small groups of people in Iowa, and if he continues to do that — which he is — he’ll do better in the caucus than many people may anticipate. Still, I’m not going to sit here and pretend he’ll win it, but he could gather some delegate support and make a showing, and that would be good,” said Larry Hodgden, chairman of the Cedar County Democrats in Iowa.

Supporters like Mr. Hodgden blame Mr. O’Malley’s poor poll numbers on his late entry into the race and the fact that he is relatively unknown on the national scene. Although they say Mr. O’Malley’s message and policies are on target, Mr. Sanders was quickly able to seize the progressive, populist lane early. Mrs. Clinton benefits from near universal name recognition from her years in politics, including her 2008 run for president, and has a group of built-in supporters.

Still, O’Malley backers say there are reasons Democratic voters may give him another look — including Mrs. Clinton’s polarization and Mr. Sanders‘ socialist tendencies and unwillingness to change his party registration to run as a Democrat.

“There are times when what you have to say is important enough, you need to stand up and say it and let the American people decide, ‘We don’t need pundits or poll takers to decide this. Let Iowans decide this,’ ” Mr. Hodgden said. “Hopefully, people will listen to [Mr. O’Malley’s] message and look at his track record, and I think he’ll do just fine. He might not win it, but he shouldn’t have to drop out just because he’s not the favorite to win. That’s not good for democracy or the Democratic Party.”

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