Friday 28 October 2016

The O'Irish challenge to Hillary

Who is Martin O'Malley, the ­former ­Maryland governor chasing the ­Democrat nomination?

Debbie McGoldrick

Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30

Making noise: Martin O'Malley at a Baltimore fundraiser in 2011
Making noise: Martin O'Malley at a Baltimore fundraiser in 2011

It's been said that if Hillary Clinton wins the US presidential election in 2016, Ireland would never have a better friend in the White House. But that was before Martin O'Malley announced his candidacy late last week.

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O'Malley, former mayor of Baltimore, governor of Maryland and still singer/guitarist for his Irish rock band, O'Malley's March, is a dyed in the wool, proud Irish American who has travelled to Ireland many times - he was in Dublin in the days before his May 30 campaign unveiling - and loves everything about his ancestral home.

Make no mistake, though, winning the Democratic nomination over the heavily favoured Clinton is going to require much more than the luck of the Irish. So what's O'Malley's game plan, and really, why is he even bothering to mount a run given Clinton's massive lead in both the polls and the equally important money race?

He's 52 - an age still considered young when it comes to US politics - and though he's been a politician since he left law school, many Americans are just being introduced to O'Malley for the first time.

The Maryland political staple, who left the governor's office last year after serving the maximum two terms, believes that he offers a fresher national perspective, a new range of ideas and a better way to chart a course than Clinton does.

Making the electorate take notice, though, will be the hard part.

"We have work to do," O'Malley said during his campaign speech. "Our economic and political system is upside down and backwards, and it is time to turn it around."

President Obama, a fellow Democrat, would surely disagree, but certainly he won't take O'Malley's fighting words to heart as it's open season for the White House. And it's doubtful that Clinton is paying much attention either, at least at this early stage of the campaign, which won't really kick into high gear until January.

So it's a good time for O'Malley to make a mark if he can. His campaign remains stuck in single digit poll numbers, out-paced not only by Clinton but another declared Democratic candidate, far-left Senator Bernie Sanders (73).

Taking shots - not too strong - at Clinton's historic bid for the White House will definitely be good for raising O'Malley's profile. As of last week, Google's top O'Malley search contained the words "who is he?"

What's the answer? O'Malley is married to Maryland judge Katie Curran and they have four children. His father, Thomas, was in the US Air Force and served as a federal attorney after finishing law school; his mother still maintains a position with Maryland US Senator Barbara Mikulski.

"Governor Martin O'Malley should follow his dreams," Mikulski said in a statement. "I look forward to the ideas and energy Governor O'Malley brings to the conversation over the coming year."

Clinton politely welcomed O'Malley's candidacy via Twitter with an invitation to discuss "strong families and communities".

Strong is a word that both O'Malley and Clinton - substantial but far from bullet-proof - will need to bear in mind as the Democratic campaign proceeds.

The great-grandson of immigrants from Galway has Irish reinforcements as 2016 looms. O'Malley's long-time top advisor is Irishman Colm O'Comartun, who earned two degrees from UCD and now heads up the bipartisan lobbying group 50 State.

O'Malley's Irish ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton are notable too. He was part of the official delegation that travelled to Ireland north and south with the Clintons in 1995 - the first of many trips they took during and after Bill's presidency - and relations have been cordial ever since, even though they're now opponents.

O'Malley was the second US governor to endorse Hillary Clinton's 2008 White House campaign, but that was then and this is now. Change, he says, will do a country that was led for 20 years by Bushes and Clintons good.

"The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth between two royal families," O'Malley said.

"It is a sacred trust to be earned from the people of the United States, and exercised on behalf of the people of the United States. The only way we are going to rebuild the American Dream is if we re-take control of our own American government!"

And perhaps O'Malley will be part of that "dream". He'd make an appealing vice president on Hillary's ticket - there's no doubt that the prospect has been discussed between the two camps - but in the meantime, he's rightly forging ahead with his own dream.

And if it ever comes true, it will no doubt come complete with an Irish party to end them all.

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