Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley clearly hoped for a better night in Iowa. After finishing with 0.5% of the vote, the Democratic governor, facing insurmountable odds, decided to call it a day.
O’Malley’s candidacy, despite initial high hopes and strong a resume, failed to launch from the start and never picked up steam as he stayed mired in the single digits in polls for most of the past year. O’Malley was a politician’s politician in a year when the electorate craved anti-establishment insurgents like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.O’Malley spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate and prided himself on being accessible to voters and the press. His campaign also believes he helped push front-runner Hillary Clinton ad Sanders on certain issues.
In a more traditional cycle, it’s easy to imagine a campaign in which O’Malley fared much better. Back in May, MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki explained that the Maryland Democrat “checks off a lot of boxes” for the party’s voters, having delivered on many top progressive priorities – “the enactment of a state-level Dream Act, strict gun control, gay marriage, and the abolition of the death penalty” – in ways Clinton and Sanders have not.
But as we discussed at the time, there were hurdles, too. O’Malley’s popularity in his home state waned; when violence erupted in the streets of Baltimore, it undermined O’Malley’s claims of success in turning the city around; and as recently as 2014, the governor’s hand-picked successor lost in one of the nation’s most reliably “blue” states.
But even putting all of that aside, at its root, the O’Malley campaign had a specific strategy in mind: become Hillary Clinton’s principal rival. Team O’Malley assumed, correctly, that the race for the Democratic nomination would ultimately come down to a one-on-one contest between the frontrunner and a progressive foe, and it believed the former governor could be that rival.
The campaign just didn’t see Bernie Sanders coming, and couldn’t find its footing after the Vermont senator caught fire.
Looking ahead, O’Malley’s departure narrows the Democratic field to two, which will probably make the next debate – Thursday night on MSNBC, co-hosted by Rachel Maddow – even more interesting.