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Martin O’Malley Announces Candidacy for President: Can He Win the Latino Vote?

First Posted: Jun 01, 2015 03:50 PM EDT
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Former Democratic governor of Maryland Martin O'Malley has announced his candidacy for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination next year. Like Sen. Bernie Sanders before him, O'Malley is running to the left of top contender Hillary Clinton.

On Saturday, May 30, the former Maryland governor stood on a stage along with his wife Katie at Federal Hill Park in Baltimore, the city he was previously mayor of. O'Malley's speech focused on the various levels of inequality in the country and gave proposals for improving the status quo, using his past experience to bolster his points. Among the achievements he highlights is passing the state's DREAM Act, an attempt to sway Latino voters, as well as raising the minimum wage. 

"It is the gap between the strong and just country our children need for us to be ... and the country we are in danger of becoming," he said.

"For today in America, 70 percent of us are earning the same or less than they were 12 years ago. This is the first time that has happened this side of World War II."

O'Malley bemoaned the collapse of the American Dream due to the Wall Street's malfeasance, claiming "powerful, wealthy special interests" have taken advantage of the government to work in their favor.

"An economy where a majority of our people are unheard, unseen, un-needed, and left to conclude that their lives and labors are literally worth less today than they were yesterday ... and will be worth less still tomorrow," he said.

"We are allowing our land of opportunity to be turned into a land of inequality."

The former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor used his record to support his candidacy, touting various reforms that have improved Baltimore and Maryland. He pointed out his administration's work on environmental protection, marriage equality and immigration reform.

He said his administration helped pass Maryland's DREAM Act and allowed for same-sex marriage. His administration also raised the minimum wage and improved schools.

His campaign speech asserted the reality of climate change and advocated for immigration reform to "bring 11 million of our neighbors out of the shadows."

"Because the enduring symbol of our nation is not the barbed wire fence, it is the Statue of Liberty," he added.

O'Malley has been touted as another contender to woo the Latino vote, which Clinton has been eyeing since she announced her candidacy. He has earned the support of immigrant rights leader Cesar Vargas of Dream Action Coalition, who spoke with Latino Rebels.

"The only person who I see that has a proven record [on immigration reform] when there was no election is Governor O'Malley," Vargas said. "O'Malley pushed for the DREAM Act, pushed for driver's licenses to ensure road safety for undocumented immigrants. ... You know he fought for it when there was no election.

"He's not a perfect candidate," Vargas added, saying there is room for improvement on his police reform policies. He added it does not matter if a candidate is a first or who their family is but rather their political record and how that is beneficial to the Latino community.

Ahead of his Saturday announcement, the O'Malley campaign hired President Obama's former Hispanic media director, Gabriela Domenzain, according to Buzzfeed News.

"In Maryland, you speak to Latinos and they call him the most pro-Latino governor of the United States," she told BuzzFeed News. "In other states they don't know him but they should."

O'Malley has been lauded for his comments and response during the 2014 border crisis in which thousands of Central American children refugees crossed the border to escape their countries' violence.

"It is contrary to everything we stand for to try to summarily send children back to death," O'Malley said in July of 2014 at the National Governors Association. He was later criticized over a White House leak, claiming the Maryland governor did not want the children in his state.

However, his office argued the administration's decision to place some children in a particular part of Maryland would be detrimental as the children would not be welcomed there.

CASA Maryland, the state's leading immigration advocacy group, sided with the governor.

"We think he is right to question why the administration would propose the most anti-immigrant locations rather than the many other parts of the state where children will be sheltered and loved," the group's spokesperson told the Baltimore Sun at the time.

He has also called for a higher minimum wage and support for unions and called for the return of the Glass-Steagall Act and the breaking up of banks that are "too big to fail." Both of these topics are highly favorable among Latinos, especially the former.

But, O'Malley faces stiff competition. Clinton continues to dominate against GOP contenders, according to a Public Policy Polling survey from May 21. O'Malley remains fairly obscure to most voters with only a 9 percent favorability rating versus a 72 percent "not sure."

Even Sen. Sanders, who is running farther to the left than O'Malley and Clinton, enjoys higher numbers and greater celebrity. However, he failed to directly address immigrant issues in his announcement speech.

The PPP survey found O'Malley only has a 12 percent favorability rating among Latinos, compared to Clinton's 51 percent. Among Democrats, O'Malley comes third at 4 percent, behind Sen. Sanders (24 percent) and Clinton (57 percent).

O'Malley has a long way to go before he can contest Clinton's candidacy, regardless of how much he says, "The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families."

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