O’Malley comfortable as underdog

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O’Malley comfortable as underdog

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By Quentin Misiag
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When it comes to his current place in the polls, Martin O’Malley will admit he’s down. He’ll go as far as to confess that he’s an “unknown candidate” for president in 2016.

But after meeting with dozens of progressive Democratic activists on the tail end of his newest Iowa tour this past weekend, the former Maryland governor insists it’s too early to count him out.

And to prove it, the Democratic dark horse is committed to visiting all of Iowa’s 99 counties, he told The Daily Iowan in an interview Sunday.

“Yes,” O’Malley said when asked whether he would make the historic political trek across the state. “I look forward to doing all 99.”

Turning to an aide from inside the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., O’Malley added, “They hate it when you say that. That’s one of the secrets to success in Iowa.”

The declaration is evidence that O’Malley, who trails both party front-runner Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is hunkering down for the long haul.

That is, at least until the Iowa caucuses, which have been tentatively set for Feb. 1, 2016.

A list of state county heads endorsing O’Malley will be released soon, aides told the DI.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is expected to become the first to achieve the “Full Grassley” this cycle. The term was coined for Sen. Chuck Grassley, who visits all 99 counties each year.

When O’Malley, a lifelong Democrat whose last gubernatorial term ended in 2014, stopped by the restaurant in October of that year, he drew a crowd of fewer than 30.

But Sunday’s visit — which drew more than six times the number of people — was decidedly more relaxed and polished.

While he consistently sits in the low single digits in state and national polls, O’Malley appeared content playing the role of the underdog, working the stage of the dim-lit restaurant with numerous political jokes that cast him as a relaxed stand-up comedian.

When he was interrupted about halfway through his speech by an organizer for Democracy Matters, O’Malley excitedly jumped at the chance to sign the activist’s petition.

“I support restoring democracy by publicly financing elections and getting big money out of politics,” read the petition by nonpartisan grass-roots organization that was handed to him by Mason Buonadonna, a University of Iowa student.

“There’s no fine print on this, that’s admirable,” he told Buonadonna, who works on behalf the Hamilton, New York, group led by students dedicated to expanding the democratic process.

Sanders, a liberal firebrand with a growing following, has already signed the petition, Buonadonna said.

O’Malley was next on the group’s radar.

O’Malley’s last visit to Iowa until Labor Day weekend also included digs at the Democratic National Committee’s decision to limit the number of primary debates to six.

Key Democratic activists and elected officials, including state Sen. Kevin Kinney, Iowa City City Council candidate Pauline Taylor, and an aide to former Democratic congressional candidate Ravi Patel dotted the audience.

Being the first presidential campaign to visit the UI this school year could yield heightened support for O’Malley.

The UI and the greater Iowa City area is Iowa’s most liberal area and is home to a number of influential Democratic activists and bloggers who are often approached by campaigns to expand ground-game efforts.

Martha Hedberg, the head of the Johnson County Democrats, used Sunday’s drop-in to personally invite O’Malley to the group’s annual barbecue.

O’Malley told Hedberg to keep in touch with his aides for further details.

The event, set for Oct. 18 this year at the Johnson County Fairgrounds, is the group’s largest fundraiser and is known as a must-do on the Iowa Democratic calendar.

In 2003, it drew Howard Dean, John Kerry, and non-candidate Ted Kennedy.

And on Oct. 6, 2007, Clinton swung through and received the endorsement of George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee.

“I need your help,” O’Malley pleaded to the crowd in the final minutes of his remarks. “If you are ready to caucus for me, I will be your best friend so long you are in Johnson County.”



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