Martin O'Malley got some good press from Washington Monthly, who touts his strong managerial skills as well as his attention to detail as governor. They paint the picture of a man who is constantly looking at data and evidence in order to make decisions affecting the people of Maryland.
He’d spent the morning in discussion with various members of the state legislature, which is in session just a few steps away at the statehouse on the hill. Up there, laws are being shaped and votes cast, mostly in the governor’s favor, but it’s down here, in this windowless room, packed with staff from three of Maryland’s state agencies and his own executive team, that O’Malley’s political impact is deepest. In 2000, as a young mayor of Baltimore, he pioneered this type of meeting—biweekly, multi-agency, data-driven performance reviews—and thirteen years later they’re still the cornerstone of his legacy as a politician.
O'Malley is in tune with the wishes of the American people. While many of the pundits in Washington say that the deficit is the most important thing facing this country, O'Malley's main focus is the economy and how best to make it grow again. This is borne out by Pew polling showing that 86% of Americans believe we should focus on the economy and 79% say we should focus on jobs. While deficit reduction is important in the minds of the American people, that number checks in at third at 72%.
O'Malley's constant focus is on how to connect people with prospective employers in the state.
“That’s right, sir,” a man in the back of the room says. They’re referring to an incentive to get students to use Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s online Workforce Dashboard. It was designed to help colleges, businesses, and job seekers get a snapshot of employment opportunities in the state, but also to allow the state to gather better data on who’s looking for jobs, where, and with what skills, to improve both monitoring and outreach efforts. As of now, not enough people are using the Dashboard to make it a valuable tool.This is the sort of thing that will help the government run more efficiently and help people get back to work. We have been bombarded constantly for the last 20 years by messages that the government doesn't work, that unregulated free enterprise is the way to go, and that private management always works better than government. O'Malley's success in 2016 will depend on his ability to prove these notions wrong in his state and then turn around and take his case to the country.
“I know everyone’s got budget constraints, but why don’t we all talk about how to market this more?” the governor asks, and as is typical in these meetings, the attention turns to an array of charts, maps, and digital reams of Excel spreadsheets, each illustrating the nuts and bolts of the program, the population it’s serving, and the various outputs and inputs and outcomes over the past few months. The idea is to use data like a scalpel to dissect how a government program works, to pinpoint where, exactly, it’s breaking down, and then to use these collaborative meetings to solve the problem at hand.
He has already proven his progressive credentials:
As governor, he’s pushed a series of bills that are all but guaranteed to impress Democratic primary and caucus voters three years from now, on topics ranging from guns (against), gay marriage (for), the death penalty (against), medical marijuana (for), and implementing Dream Act-like policies at Maryland’s colleges and universities.And the Washington Monthly article talks about how he has been a strong fundraiser throughout his time as governor. The fact that he can combine strong progressive credentials, strong fundraising ability, and strong managerial skills gives him the potential to be a formidable competitor in 2016.
Another reason O'Malley might be a strong candidate -- fresh blood. People have been around Clinton and Biden for forever. Fatigue is always a factor in Presidential races. The GOP operates differently -- they always pick the most establishment candidate. In 2008, it was John McCain's "turn;" in 2012, it was Mitt Romney's. On the other hand, the Democratic Party is most effective when they can get fresh blood in there.
Back in 1984, the party turned to an establishment candidate, Walter Mondale, instead of Gary Hart. Mondale did not inspire enough people and he was trounced at the polls. Dukakis was beaten soundly as well, but he at least intrigued more people through the "Massachusetts Miracle." He started out well ahead of George Bush; his problem was that he was too bland and did not effectively respond to Lee Atwater's attacks.
There has been a constant pattern in picking Democratic Party candidates. Nobody in 1984 thought Dukakis would get nominated in 1988. Nobody in 1988 thought Bill Clinton would get nominated in 1992. But he did because he was the most disciplined candidate; his constant focus was on the economy. People didn't care about his alleged infidelities; their one concern was where their next paycheck was going to come from. "It's the Economy, stupid!" And given Mark Sanford's win last night, people still don't care.
The one time that the Democrats picked an establishment candidate after 1984 was 2000, when they picked Al Gore. There were plenty of candidates who would have been better than Gore that year. This was his second run at the Oval Office; he distanced himself too much from Bill Clinton instead of learning the lesson from 1992 and running on the economy. The thing I remember most about Gore from 2000 was his lockbox; it sounded gimmicky even if it was a perfectly good solution for Social Security. Going out on a limb, Bill Bradley, the only other candidate to run that year, would have beaten Bush; he would have excited a lot more people because of the fact that he was fresh blood.
In 2004, George Bush Jr. said in his book "Decision Points" that Howard Dean would have been the easiest candidate to beat while John Kerry was a formidable campaigner. I disagree about Dean; he brought a ton of people into the party that had not previously been involved in politics and inspired a lot of people to run for office. He saw politics as a force for good and he was a master at drawing attention to himself. In 2001, nobody expected Kerry to be the nominee in 2004 and nobody expected anybody to come remotely close to Bush especially in the middle of a war and following the 9/11 attacks. But John Kerry came closer than anyone thought possible. Dean, however, would have also created problems for Bush; he would have articulated a clear distinction between his policies and that of the President's.
Although Barack Obama performed strongly in the 2004 Democratic National Convention, nobody thought he would become the nominee in 2008 especially since Hillary was running and her nomination was supposedly inevitable. John Edwards was supposed to be her key rival and he did do a good job early of shaping the debate. But it was Obama who proved that he could develop the money and organization to beat Hillary Clinton.
What all this means is that if O'Malley were to establish himself as an alternative to Hillary, he would have two advantages. The first is generational. It is usually very difficult to win when you are significantly older than the person that you are about to replace. The exception is if someone has the charisma of a Reagan. Recently, people who were significantly older than the incumbent have been trounced. Dole, a WW2 generation candidate, was trounced by Clinton in 1996; John McCain, significantly older than Bush Jr., was trounced in 2008. O'Malley is younger than Obama while Hillary will be in her late 60's.
The second advantage is that O'Malley is a fresh candidate, which is totally consistent with the pattern of nominees that the Democrats have offered. The two non-incumbent exceptions to that pattern since 1968, Mondale in 1984 and Gore in 2000, were beaten. Hillary has been a candidate before and she was First Lady for eight years, so everyone knows who she is. The advantage for Hillary is that since everyone knows who she is, she will start at the top of most polls and O'Malley will start at the bottom. O'Malley's success will depend on his ability to deliver results economically for Maryland as well as his ability to get his name out there.