Bring It On, O’Malley

06.11.14

Biden? Warren? O’Malley? Please. After Clinton, There’s No One.

Yes, it looks like Hillary Clinton is running. But what if she doesn’t? Suddenly it’s going to be the Democrats’ turn to panic.

There are not very many Republicans lying awake at night, unable to sleep, trembling with fear at the possibility of President Martin O’Malley.

No, though the Republican Party certainly has its share of troubles heading into the next presidential election, the biggest worries haunting the minds of Republicans hungry to retake 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are not the specters of the Maryland governor or Vice President Biden or many of the other might-runs out there on the left.

And on this week, “Hillary Week,” the week of the launch of Hard Choices, when all the political media world seems focused on Hillary, Hillary, Hillary, the difficult question facing the Democratic Party is: if not Clinton, then who?

The gravitational pull of Clinton’s political star is so great that it has essentially created a black hole from which no other Democratic rising stars can escape.

Despite Biden’s having held federal office since the 1970s, including six years in the White House and a star-turn on NBC’s Parks & Rec, voters just aren’t #ReadyForJoe.

Let’s look at the polling. In March, when CNN asked Democratic voters who they preferred for president, more respondents chose “no one” or “someone else” than chose either New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, or O’Malley.  In May, when revisiting the question of 2016, CNN didn’t even bother asking other candidates’ names, simply asking respondents if they’d prefer Clinton or a candidate on her ideological left or right.

Contenders who are not Clinton are so irrelevant right now that they aren’t even being offered as poll options.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the only potential contender whose candidacy gets less support from his own partisans than the generic “no one” is Rick Santorum.

While polling on matchups that don’t include Clinton are few and far between, the handful from 2014 show Republicans like Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie beating out Democratic second-tier contenders like Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. We are eons away from the 2016 election in political terms, and a healthy number of poll respondents say they don’t know who they’d pick, but given all the talk about the troubled Republican brand, it is striking that there seems to be no one but Clinton who can give the GOP field a real run for its money.

For some, name identification is certainly a factor. Take Warren, who is significantly less known nationwide than any of the potentially serious Republican contenders.

Some might argue that the disadvantages facing lesser-known candidates can be cured with more time in a national spotlight. But that’s the point: With Clinton potentially in the game, they can’t get any airtime. Her book tour is going to the oh-so-hotly contested battleground locations of New York City and Toronto, and yet should her plane even fly through Iowa airspace in the process, it will launch a thousand cable news segments. “Does this mean she’s running?”

Meanwhile, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer can take a swing at Clinton’s record, or Martin O’Malley can go to Iowa, and nobody cares. (Even The Daily Beast’s own O’Malley story uses Clinton’s name in the headline as a hook.)

But it’s not just about visibility. There’s no guarantee that elevating any of these players into the national consciousness would lead them to victory. Biden doesn’t suffer from the same anonymity and lack of ability to grab headlines as his counterparts. Despite Biden’s having held federal office since the 1970s, including six years in the White House and a star turn on NBC’s Parks & Rec, voters just aren’t #ReadyForJoe. For instance, some 57 percent of Iowans, including a third of Iowa Democrats, think a Biden re-run would be a bad idea.

Republicans are divided over whether running against Clinton would mean kissing the White House goodbye for another eight years or whether it opens up the perfect opportunity to contrast an old-school, corporatist Democratic vision with a fresh new face of conservatism (whatever that may ultimately be). And heaven knows that who Republicans ultimately nominate will have an enormous impact on their ability to turn the ship around and win a national election.

But if Hillary doesn’t run, the feeling among Republicans is somewhat more unanimous, and with good reason: Bring it on, Martin O’Malley.