O’Malley Talks Presidential Campaign, Political Strategy

Former 2016 Democratic presidential candidate and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley spoke on his campaign and career — and played some guitar — with Huffington Post Senior Politics Editor Sam Stein and Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Executive Director Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94) in McShain Lounge on Tuesday night.

The interview was part of a recording for the Huffington Post’s podcast series, “Candidate Confessional,” which features candidates who did not succeed in their bids for elected office.

Elleithee began the conversation by addressing the terrorist attacks in Brussels on Tuesday morning, for which the Islamic State group has since claimed responsibility. O’Malley, who was in the midst of campaigning when the Islamic State group attacked Paris last November, said he disagrees with the efforts of presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Donald Trump regarding the Muslim population.

“Democracies are very vulnerable in the wake of attacks like these. In our fear, we turn upon ourselves, and I think you certainly saw that in the rhetoric of Sen. Cruz and Mr. Donald Trump, talking about creating new police forces to police Muslim-American neighborhoods and sealing the border,” O’Malley said. “Those things will actually play right into the hands of those who commit these attacks.”

Stein then asked O’Malley about his first presidential campaign experience in 1984 during Sen. Gary Hart’s (D-Colo.) bid for office. O’Malley worked on Hart’s campaign while he was a student at Catholic University. During his time in Iowa prior to that year’s caucuses, O’Malley said he discovered the ability of candidates to defy expectations and succeed with the right campaign efforts, which could propel them to the top of the polls.

Hart finished second to former Vice President Walter Mondale in the 1984 Iowa caucuses, but the former governor of Maryland’s 2016 presidential bid did not see the same success. O’Malley failed to meet the 15-percent threshold required to receive delegates to advance to the party’s national nominating convention, and suspended his campaign shortly after on Feb. 1.

O’Malley said he has since had time to reflect on what went wrong with his campaign.

“The biggest challenge we saw every day was fundraising. Raising money as an incumbent governor is very different from raising money as a challenger for president of the United States with a 1-percent national name recognition,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley also responded to Elleithee’s question about the effectiveness of a “shake-hands-with-every-voter” campaign strategy in the context of today’s political climate.

“I think every year is different. So much is timing, in politics and in these times, this race has been so far characterized by people wanting to express their fear on one side and their anger on the other side,” O’Malley said. “But I don’t think that means that the one-on-one contact and that way of campaigning is an antique of the past.”

Though O’Malley discussed his failed campaign with a sense of lightheartedness, he was candid about his displeasure with the compressed debate schedule put forth by the Democratic National Committee, which set four debates compared to the Republican Party’s six.

O’Malley said he knew from the moment the DNC released the debate schedule his campaign would be an uphill battle.

“One of my trusted advisers said to me, ‘On that day when they came out with the schedule and said that there would only be four debates, and that most of them were going to be on Saturday and Sunday nights, hidden by NFL playoff games and the like, that’s when I knew our goose was cooked,’” O’Malley said. “As a challenging candidate, you depend on the earned media, and as part of our strategy to break through, we were counting on those debates.”

When asked whether he would seek the presidency again in the future, O’Malley remained ambiguous in his answer, recalling telling one voter he could not promise another presidential campaign.

“In terms of whether or not I would do it again, my son William was with me when, in the last couple of days in Iowa, a gentleman coming out of one of the coffee shops shook my hand and said to me, ‘Gov. O’Malley, you’ve got to promise me you’ll run again,’ and I said to him, ‘No!’” O’Malley said.

Several students in the audience asked O’Malley questions on topics ranging from what his desired cabinet position would be to what Jesuit values he learned during his time at the District’s Gonzaga College High School and how they helped him in his political career.

O’Malley particularly urged students to enter the field of politics as a form of public service.

“I encourage you to do it. Your country and your world has never needed you more. You’re in the greatest country on the planet to effect change. I hope you all considering running. This country needs you,” O’Malley said.

The event organizers also surprised O’Malley after the interview with a guitar and microphone. As the lead singer of the Baltimore-based folk-rock band O’Malley’s March, the former presidential candidate picked up the guitar and strummed away.

MacKenzie Foy (COL ’19) said she enjoyed hearing O’Malley’s perspective on his campaign in a more informal setting.

“I had only heard him through the debates, so it was really interesting to hear him talk about the [problems] with the schedule. I was really impressed, and I wish he had gone further,” Foy said.

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