Friday, September 05, 2014

Why Hillary Should Care About Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD)
This past week, rumors have grown fairly strong that Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD) is going to run for the White House in 2016 in the Democratic primary regardless of what Hillary Clinton does.  As has been discussed often on this blog, I have stated pretty strongly that I do believe that Hillary will run for and win the nomination, and that it's a bit of a fool's errand from a pragmatic standpoint to run against Hillary.  After all, any credible candidate for the White House is going to be clobbered in a primary against her.  The amount of money, institutional support, and grassroots passion she elicits is comparable to an incumbent president-even sitting vice presidents don't have the kind of foundation she does for a campaign for the Oval Office.  And the Clintons, notorious for their long memories and for not forgiving people who stand in their way, are not going to look at Martin O'Malley in the same way that Barack Obama looked at Joe Biden or John Kerry looked at John Edwards and say, "he ran a reputable campaign-maybe we should consider him for the bottom half of the ticket."  O'Malley running would kiss his chances at the White House goodbye if he ran in 2016.

So why would he do it?  And why should Hillary care?  As I've stated before on this blog, Hillary has some key problems heading into 2016, but in a primary, there's no better encapsulation of those problems than O'Malley. An affable, handsome politician, he's not as instantly exciting as Hillary is, but his lack of pizzazz (he was pretty humdrum during his 2012 Convention speech), shouldn't be confused with a lack of ability, and of someone clearly wanting to be president.  In a lot of ways, O'Malley is the Democratic equivalent of Chris Christie-someone who is clearly governing as a future presidential candidate, using his office as a stepping stone.  He has a tenure as governor of Maryland that reads like a liberal wet dream: in-state tuition fees for the children of undocumented immigrants, legalized gay marriage, and a repeal of the death penalty are just some of the laundry list of things he's managed to accomplish given a Democratic legislature.  He's also very vocal about wanting to run for president and starting to organize early (something that Hillary is doing behind closed doors), and has been out meeting-and-greeting every candidate that will have him, particularly in early primary states (next up will be Charlie Crist), again, unlike Hillary.

This is all to say that O'Malley has a platform to run on that Hillary doesn't.  Sure, the Clintons have decades of experience in Washington, but O'Malley is doing all of the things that I listed that Hillary is vulnerable on heading into 2016.  He's campaigning for his fellow Democrats at a very brisk pace, he's got a more liberal resume than she does on a variety of issues (I suspect he'll use her earlier push against gay marriage against her in the way the President used her vote on the Iraq War against her, and he'll likely run to her left on economic and foreign policy issues), and he's willing to say and do things that she's been reluctant to do.  You just know that O'Malley will be on Jimmy Fallon playing with his Celtic rock band as soon as he announces, and it will almost certainly be a hit (in the way that everyone on Fallon is).

This is a problem for Hillary.  I wrote before about Elizabeth Warren, and I do think that she'd be the most devastating threat to the former First Lady's rise to power, but that's hypothetical.  O'Malley is looking almost certain to be against her in the primary, and as a recent two-term governor, is someone she's going to have to debate and stake out a more liberal, less attractive platform against for the general election.  This could theoretically hurt her, and the Clintons don't like to fight battles that they don't have to wage.

However, I can think of two ways that this could be a good thing for Hillary.  For starters, this neutralizes a big argument coming from Sen. Bernie Sanders-that Hillary won't have a more progressive contender against her in 2016, and may take him out of the race (or give him a graceful way to exit the race).  Sanders as a third party challenger is a massive headache for Hillary, and one that makes O'Malley look like small potatoes.  If a little more trouble in the primary means keeping a progressive and viable third party option off the books in the general, then it's totally worth it.

The other reason is that Hillary has not been up-to-snuff this past summer in her book tour, and needs to get her sea legs back with a primary campaign that she'll almost certainly win, but has to work toward.  Martin O'Malley is no Barack Obama, a shockingly superb candidate whom we're all underestimating, but he is a decent candidate and one that will have the skills to challenge Hillary.  Barack Obama gained significantly by getting all of his dirty laundry aired out in a rough primary in 2008, and in particular by running a difficult campaign that prepped him for a rough general.  Hillary is going to have a very tough election in 2016, make no mistake.  Whether she's up against Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, or one of the other names being bandied, the Republicans are sick and tired of being out of the White House and are going to pull out all of the stops (if you think the Koch Brothers spent a lot of money this year, wait two years, and lord help you if you're in a swing state).  Having a politically friendly opponent like O'Malley is going to ultimately help her to get all the gaffes out of the way early so that when she's up against her true competitor, she'll be prepped for battle.

What about you-does anyone have any thoughts on O'Malley and how he'll affect Hillary?  Who else are you seeing as a potential rival against Hillary in 2016?  Share in the comments!

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