- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 28, 2015

As former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley prepares to announce his run for president this weekend, even some of his oldest allies in the state’s Democratic political establishment are not behind his long-shot bid.

For the past 15 years, Mr. O’Malley pulled the levers of power of Maryland’s Democratic machine as governor and as mayor of Baltimore, the state’s largest and most politically influential city. He will look to draw from that support base in his home state as he challenges front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton for the party nomination.

Yet many members of the party’s old guard in Baltimore, who watched Mr. O’Malley climb from the City Council to the governor’s mansion, said they are not afraid to buck the state’s favorite son to side with Mrs. Clinton.

Former Baltimore City Council member Paula Johnson Branch served alongside Mr. O’Malley when he first won a council seat in 1991 and remained a staunch ally when he became mayor in 1999. But she said she didn’t feel a need to be loyal to Mr. O’Malley this time.

“As far as owing him anything, I don’t,” said Mrs. Branch. “I was one of his major supporters, and he could always count on me. But he doesn’t owe me anything, and I don’t owe him anything.”

Mrs. Branch said she didn’t plan to attend Mr. O’Malley’s rally Saturday in Baltimore, where he is expected to make his White House bid official. She also hasn’t decided whether she will back Mr. O’Malley or Mrs. Clinton, though she readily volunteered her reasons for supporting the former secretary of state.

“She’s very popular, and she has a lot more experience,” she said. “I like her. I like him, too.”

Mrs. Branch stressed that she was not opposing Mr. O’Malley but was not yet sold on his candidacy for president.

“He’s a very hardworking, ambitious young man,” she said. “I guess he is goal-oriented and really works to accomplish his goal. He moved right along in his career.”

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young also will be skipping Mr. O’Malley’s announcement at the city’s Federal Hill overlooking the Inner Harbor. Mr. Young’s spokesman, Lester Davis, said the council president would be busy with community meetings that day to address concerns stemming from the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal injury while in police custody.

Gray’s death set off riots in Baltimore, and some in the community blamed Mr. O’Malley’s “zero tolerance” policing policy as mayor for creating the environment that led to Gray’s death.

The activist group Baltimore Bloc announced plans to stage a protest at the O’Malley event.

Mr. Young also hasn’t gotten behind Mr. O’Malley.

Uphill battle

The hesitancy among Democratic politicos to pick sides underscores Mr. O’Malley’s daunting uphill battle against Mrs. Clinton, who has overwhelming support nationwide and a huge advantage in the money race. Beyond rallying the home front, Mr. O’Malley will have to muster an army of activists and volunteers to compete in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where he is still struggling just to establish name recognition.

Mrs. Clinton’s dominance of the Democratic field has kept most potential candidates on the sidelines. When Mr. O’Malley makes his announcement, he will join Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont as her only declared rivals.

A Quinnipiac University national poll released Thursday showed Mrs. Clinton with 57 percent support, followed by Mr. Sanders with 15 percent, Vice President Joseph R. Biden with 9 percent and Mr. O’Malley, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee each with 1 percent.

Team O’Malley dismissed concerns about the level of support he is receiving from former allies and took a veiled shot at Mrs. Clinton.

“The establishment is going to back the establishment — that’s what the old guard does,” O’Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith said. “If Gov. O’Malley runs, he’s going to bring new leadership to the race — not old, stale establishment thinking that impedes progress.”

Baltimore City Council member Mary Pat Clarke, who was council president when Mr. O’Malley first joined that body, said Mr. O’Malley likely stepped on some toes and lost some old allies while he engaged in the rough-and-tumble politics of Baltimore city and state government, both of which are dominated by the Democratic Party.

“It’s toughest to run at home — they know you personally,” Ms. Clarke said. “He has a long history, and the political issues are personal issues of the people who live there. Of course, it gets personal. It gets up-close.”

Mrs. Clarke said she still expected Mr. O’Malley to mount a vigorous campaign.

“You can never underestimate the kind of grass-roots support and enthusiasm he brings to bear,” she said.

She also said she wasn’t ready to get onto the O’Malley bandwagon. “It’s real early for anyone to be pledging allegiance to any candidate,” she said.

Mr. O’Malley has managed to round up some support among Democratic leaders in Maryland, including from Attorney General Brian Frosh, who as a state senator was key to helping the governor enact a ban on military-style rifles after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, killed 20 children.

Mr. Frosh is scheduled to attend the rally Saturday and has pledged his support for Mr. O’Malley, according to a spokesman for the attorney general.

Doug Wilson, who has known Mr. O’Malley since both were involved in the 1984 presidential campaign of Gary Hart, said he didn’t think his longtime friend had a problem with support from his home base. He also said support from hometown politicians wasn’t the kind that mattered for Mr. O’Malley.

“There are a lot of people who feel alienated, who feel they don’t have a place, they don’t belong in society, whether it be economically or socially, and I think Martin is going to draw a lot from people who want to know they have a place and that they belong and that there is a possibility to succeed,” said Mr. Wilson, who was a deputy manager of the Hart campaign when Mr. O’Malley was a 20-year-old volunteer.

“I think he has real potential to appeal to an awful lot of Americans and probably across party lines,” he said.

Mr. Wilson said the skepticism about Mr. O’Malley’s run reminded him of the early days of the Hart campaign, when Mr. Hart was a little known senator from Colorado.

“In 1981 and 1982, Gary Hart registered 1 percent or lower in the polls and nobody gave him a chance. But the people who were supporting him weren’t supporting him because he was the horse to ride or the one to bet on,” said Mr. Wilson. “He was the one who inspired people and his team came together because people wanted to make a difference in the country.”

“I think that’s why the people who are surrounding Martin are doing so now,” he said.

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