AMES, Iowa — Martin O’Malley unleashed some of his sharpest barbs at a Democratic party event here Sunday, unloading on Hillary Clinton for invoking 9/11 in her defense of accepting political donations from Wall Street banks — all while the Iowa Caucuses draw closer and he runs out of time and money to change the trajectory of his campaign.
Clinton is under fire from both Republicans and Democrats, as well as media analysts, for saying in the second Democratic presidential Saturday night that her ties to large financial institutions have to do with her efforts to rebuild lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The next day, at a Central Iowa Democratic Barbecue that brought the candidates together again, both O’Malley's and Sanders’ campaigns showed no signs of letting up, a noticeable shift as the candidates move closer to the first nominating contests, now less than 80 days away.
Cornel West, the Princeton professor and radical activist, spoke on Sanders’ behalf and was even more critical of Clinton than the senator was the night before. "I took Wall Street money but it didn't affect me?" he said in disbelief of "my dear sister Hillary Clinton.”
Speaking with MSNBC on the sidelines, West said Clinton “is a master of giving lip service to progressive causes but acting like a neoliberal and a example of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party.”
“It’s fascinating to see her mastery of the lip service, but there is just no progressive substance there,” West continued, saying he will continue to highlight “Bernie Sanders’ integrity and moral consistently. He’s not giving lip service. He’s the real thing in terms of being progressive."
But O’Malley’s tone was especially notable, as it was significantly more critical than it has been in the past, both towards Clinton and Sanders.
Speaking with reporters, O’Malley said Clinton made a “gaffe” in a “very, very distasteful way, trying to pump out a smokescreen for her coziness with the big banks of Wall Street by invoking the tragedy of 9/11 and those attacks — and especially so fresh after so many were murdered in Paris.”
And it wasn’t just Clinton whom O’Malley targeted. “I don’t believe we need to scrap capitalism and replace it with socialism, as Sen. Sanders thinks,” he said of Sanders.
O’Malley’s campaign is said to be “running on fumes” financially,” as one Democrat not affiliated with any campaign characterized it — and he has precious little time to escape the single-digit poll numbers he's been mired in.
At the end of Saturday’s debate, he told the audience no contribution was “too small." And before the debate, he sent supporters an email with a subject line that simply read,” Please help out with a donation.”
On Sunday, even O’Malley acknowledged his meager finances. “I am way ahead, in terms of fundraising, of the candidate in fourth place,” he joked to reporters of the three-candidate field.
And asked if his campaign was taking on debt, he did not say no. But he insisted the campaign had the money it needed to compete and said there were no plans for staff reductions or other major-cost cutting measures.
Clinton's campaign defend her comments and called the controversy an unfair attempt by her rivals to score points.