WASHINGTON — Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley took the stage Saturday to formally announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.
O’Malley made his announcement at Federal Hill Park in Baltimore, where he served as mayor before winning two terms as governor. Aides had decorated the front of the stage with signs that read, “O’Malley for President 2016 New Leadership.” A new campaign bus was touted as well as buttons. His remarks were preceded by several testimonials from constituents who said he had been a major support and inspiration to them as mayor and governor.
“The only way we are going to rebuild the American dream is if we retake control of our American government,” O’Malley had exclaimed during his remarks, flanked by his family, which touched upon a number of populist themes, including support for the Middle Class, criticizing the big banks on Wall Street, building jobs and social justice.
“A stronger middle class is the cause of economic growth. We must build an American economy that works for all of us,” he said. “This means good job and good wage policies that allow families to earn more as they work harder and harder.”
He also spoke passionately about the recent riots over the police shooting of Freddie Gray, suggesting it spoke to broader problems of race and poverty throughout the country. “That was a heartbreaking night for all of us,” he said, referring to the worst of the violence that broke out in the city after Gray’s death. “For us, Baltimore is our country, and our country is Baltimore.”
Though the announcement was expected for some time, O’Malley is only the third Democrat to throw his hat into the ring and is considered a longshot challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sen. Bernie Sanders announced his bid for the nomination on May 26.
He also released a new campaign video commemorating his launch:
O’Malley has made frequent visits in recent months to early-voting Iowa, where he was headed after the Baltimore announcement, and New Hampshire. Still, he remains largely unknown in a field dominated by Clinton. Already in the race is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who could be O’Malley’s main rival for the support of the Democratic left.
An ally of former President Bill Clinton, O’Malley was the second governor to endorse Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007. But he says Democrats deserve a choice in the 2016 primary.
The 52-year-old O’Malley has spoken often about the economic challenges facing the nation and said he would bring new leadership, progressive values and the ability to accomplish things.
O’Malley has presented himself to voters as a next-generation leader for the party, pointing to his record as governor on issues such as gay marriage, immigration, economic issues and the death penalty.
However, O’Malley was also known for his tough-on-crime, “zero tolerance” policies that led to large numbers of arrests for minor offenses. Critics say it sowed distrust between police and the black community. Supporters note the overall decrease in violent crime during his tenure.
O’Malley has defended his work to curb crime, saying he helped address rampant violence and drug abuse. He has said the unrest in Baltimore should wake up the nation to the need to address despair in poor communities.
O’Malley could soon be joined in the Democratic field by former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who plans to make an announcement next week, and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who is exploring a potential campaign.
Sanders has raised more than $4 million since opening his campaign in late April and sought to build support among liberals in the party who are disillusioned with Clinton.
One of O’Malley’s first tasks as a candidate would be to consolidate support among Democrats who are reluctant to back Clinton and eyeing Sanders.
“His first real hurdle here is not Secretary Clinton, it’s Senator Sanders,” said Craig Varoga, who was O’Malley’s chief strategist during his 2010 re-election campaign but is not currently advising him. “There’s no ambiguity at all with Senator Sanders on the issues and he came out of the gate with strong fundraising. He set a pretty high bar.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report