Caricature of Martin OMalley by DonkeyHotey with Flickr Creative Commons License.
What a surprise. . . . Martin OMalley is running for president.
Its now official but it hardly was a secret Marylands former governor and Baltimores former mayor would be spending the next nine months trooping around Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other key Democratic primary states.
At the moment, hes a long longshot. Irelands largest bookmaker, Paddy Power, puts OMalleys chances at 25-to-1. (Lets hope he plucked some four-leaf clovers when he visited the Old Sod recently.)
Thats better than the odds on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (33-to-1) or former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (50-to-1), but theyre not OMalleys problem.
Mount Hillary is the former governors Mount Everest of a challenge. Hillary Clinton is given an even-money chance of winning the presidency by Paddy Power. (Her closest rival, according to the bookmaker, is Republican Jeb Bush. His odds are 7-to-2.)
The latest (May 28) Quinnipiac Poll shows Clinton with 57% of the Democratic primary vote. OMalley is a whopping 56% points behind.
Sanders registered a respectable 15%, Vice President Joe Biden (who may not even become a candidate) had 9% of the Democratic vote, and OMalley was tied at 1% with Webb and former Rhode Island Governor and Senator Lincoln Chaffee.
Clearly, Martin OMalley has a huge, almost impossible, challenge in front of him.
But were talking politics, here, not statistical mathematics. Anything can happen. And sometimes does.
Remember 1976, when a little-known ex-Georgia governor surprised everyone and not only won the Democratic nomination but went on to defeat President Gerald Ford?
Jimmy Carter was such a no-name that when he campaigned in Annapolis in the summer of 1975, I wrote him off after listening to him deliver a mundane speech to a dozen or so retired officers at the Naval Reserve Club.
So much for my crystal-ball abilities.
And remember when a former Arkansas governor came from behind to defeat the likes of Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas to win the Democratic presidential nomination?
Bill Clinton even lost the Maryland primary to Tsongas, 43-36 percent, but ran the table in southern primary states. He went on to defeat a sitting president, George Herbert Walker Bush.
In politics, miracles can happen.
It takes high-voltage energy, intestinal fortitude, the guts of a burglar, a solid record in government, a strong message and the determination to succeed no matter how bleak the situation.
OMalley has all those attributes. He proved that when he ran for mayor of Baltimore in 1999 as a distinct underdog the only white candidate in a minority-majority city. He shocked a lot of people by putting together a flawless campaign and winning fairly easily.
Then in 2006, OMalley took on an incumbent governor, Republican Bob Ehrlich, and beat him convincingly.
But running a successful presidential campaign is in another, elite category especially when youre running against an overwhelming favorite whose husband remains the most popular politician in the nation and who would be the first woman to hold the countrys highest office.
Hillary Clintons name recognition is near-100 percent. OMalleys is near-zero outside of certain political circles.
Pluses and minuses
But OMalley has the edge in actually running a large government bureaucracy, first in Baltimore and then in Annapolis. He has dealt with the tough urban issues and fiscal crises; he has crafted liberal legislative agendas and then negotiated his way to victory.
He is from a younger, more energetic generation than Hillary Clinton. He can even strum and sing his way to the presidency, if need be.
On the minus side, OMalley will have trouble outliving has zero tolerance policing tactics he instituted in Baltimore as mayor. While mass arrests for petty crimes did, indeed, bring down the citys crime rate, it embittered generations of blacks who took out their anger in a wave of civil unrest this April.
Zero tolerance is offensive to most liberal Democrats, and OMalley may have trouble explaining his past support for that policing policy.
He also could have difficult explaining the dozens of taxes he imposed on Maryland citizens during his eight years as governor. By the time OMalley left office, his unpopularity stemmed from his reputation as a relentless proponent of tax increases.
Republican Larry Hogan was elected governor last year by running successfully against OMalleys heavy-handed tax record. While this may not be a major detriment for OMalley during the primaries, it could kill his chances of winning in a national general election.
At the moment, OMalleys candidacy seems hopeless. But what if Hillary Clinton has health problems (shes already had one stroke)? What if the get Hillary media and right-wing frenzy persuades her to withdraw?
Or what if OMalleys solidly far-left agenda gains momentum in the early primaries among Democratic voters and he becomes the cover-boy favorite of the media and liberal interest groups?
Its also likely that OMalley has a back-up plan: Campaign like crazy throughout Iowa and New Hampshire, but if Clinton still buries him in an avalanche of votes, gracefully withdraw.
Then declare your abiding support for Hillary and fanatically campaign for Clinton around the country as a surrogate.
Under this backup plan, OMalley would aim for presidential elections in 2020 or 2024. Hed still be a relatively youthful (for a president) 56 or 60.
At the moment, OMalley isnt held in high regard in his home state. Its not even certain he could win the Maryland primary.
Both U.S. senators and most of the states Democratic establishment are gung-ho backers of Hillary Clinton. The Clinton family is beloved in the states African American communities a pivotal component in any Democratic primary.
Yet were 11 months away from that election in Maryland. OMalley has plenty of time to improve his position and hope that the front-runner makes some fateful mistakes.
Barry Rascovars blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.