O'Malley's march to 2016 begins.

Photographer: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Everybody's Running (Martin O'Malley Edition)

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Why is everyone ignoring Martin O’Malley?

That was the headline on Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire item today on the former Democratic governor of Maryland and current long-shot candidate in 2016.  It was recapping a profile of O'Malley by the Atlantic's Molly Ball, who says that he “ought to be a Democrat’s dream candidate.”  Yet  no matter what O’Malley does to show he’s a real contender, no one appears to take him seriously, even though he was a reasonably successful two-term governor. His problem is that Hillary Clinton totally dominates the party's mainstream ideological space and any other space he would fill.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and even Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders have more early buzz than O’Malley, mostly because they potentially appeal to the party's most liberal fringe, which isn't thrilled with Clinton.  Ball has O'Malley running on executive experience, but secretary of state trumps governor on that score. And when it comes to image, for most Democrats, no one can match Clinton's strong ties to the last two Democratic presidents, both wildly popular within the party.

And while O’Malley’s early visible campaign has some advantages by getting party actors in Iowa and New Hampshire and other early states to take him seriously, it removes a natural story line from national press discussion: Is he or isn't he? Think how many stories we've seen on whether Warren will run. Meanwhile, the press has written O'Malley off, Ball says correctly, and he's already tanking in public opinion polls. 

It's less clear, however, whether he may be making headway among Democratic party actors -- politicians, campaign and governing professionals, formal party officials and staff, activists and party-aligned interest groups --  at the state level. If so, he's only succeeding as second choice, if Clinton unexpectedly drops out or something else goes wrong. 

O’Malley has probably done as much as he can so far to set himself up to compete. He never had a chance to compete on even terms, just as Bill Bradley never had a chance to compete with Al Gore in 2000. But lack of national notice doesn’t have much to do with whether he’s making some progress on what is achievable.

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net