‘Very Affable’

2016 Dark Horse Martin O'Malley Is Boosting Iowa Democrats (and Himself)

The Maryland governor is giving his time and money to long-shot local candidates in the Hawkeye State—and in so doing meeting key Democratic activists and boosting his 2016 profile.

09.22.14 9:45 AM ET

Jack Hatch is an underdog who has been written off by the pundits. The Democratic nominee for governor of Iowa has been ignored by the national party—his ticketmate running for secretary of state gets more national attention—and at home, many local Democrats seem to be simply going through the motions on his behalf.

But Hatch does have one ally: Martin O’Malley. Not only has the Maryland governor and 2016 presidential hopeful’s PAC given $10,000 to Hatch’s campaign, O’Malley has crisscrossed the Hawkeye State with the longtime Des Moines state senator, appearing at six fundraisers and several other events. O’Malley also has dispatched staffers to work for Hatch and other Iowa Democrats through Election Day.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Hatch described how supportive O’Malley has been. “Every time he comes in, he gives us a call,” said Hatch, who running an underfunded campaign and is down 20 points in the most recent poll to five-term incumbent Terry Branstad. “He’s been very helpful…We have events, and he’s a great draw. People want to talk to him.” Appearances by the Maryland governor attract “more money and more interest” to Hatch’s campaign, he added, and help to push local Democrats “into another gear.”

Lis Smith, a spokesman for O’Malley, noted that the Maryland governor has done events for a number of other gubernatorial candidates across the country. But she said of Hatch’s race that O’Malley has “a long history in the state and thinks this race is critically important.” The Maryland governor’s efforts were a necessary counterbalance, she said, because “Branstad has called in the cavalry and had a parade of ethically challenged Republican governors like Chris Christie, so it only makes sense for more national Democrats to come in and help Jack Hatch.”

O’Malley isn’t holding Iowa events just for Hatch. The governor has held fundraisers for Bruce Braley, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, incumbent congressman Dave Loebsack, and two state Senate candidates. In addition, O’Malley’s PAC has given to Democratic candidates for Congress and secretary of state, and the Maryland governor was the keynote speaker at the Iowa Democratic Party’s convention this year. But his efforts for Hatch have been notable and have helped forge a relationship between the two men. As Hatch told The Daily Beast, he and O’Malley “have had fascinating conversations about the politics of being a chief executive.”

But of course, O’Malley isn’t out there just to help Hatch and other Democrats. One well-connected Iowa Democrat told The Daily Beast that the Maryland governor also has done a good job introducing himself to caucus-goers in an “easygoing and casual” format at events for Hatch and other Democratic candidates. The potential presidential hopeful has come across as “a very affable person” and has been able to make “a lot of personal contacts,” the Iowa Democrat added.

In particular, at events for Hatch, O’Malley has been able to make personal contacts with core Democratic activists. Iowa activists, particularly those with ties to the labor movement, have long detested Branstad. (The governor, for his part, in August jokingly dismissed the political impact of corrections officers organized by AFSCME to reporters by saying, “Prisoners can’t vote.”) Those who make an effort to attend events for Hatch are the Democratic base, who can be relied upon to support their party’s candidate in all circumstances and who are guaranteed to turn out on caucus night.

By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s prospective candidacy has been built around a formidable campaign infrastructure and an organization that flew out dozens of Ready for Hillary activists to be of service at Clinton’s recent speech at the Harkin Steak Fry. The former secretary of state isn’t shaking hands with local party leaders or crisscrossing the state. Instead, Ready for Hillary staffers are already taking names of those who are supportive of a Clinton campaign, including on a six-college tour across Iowa last week.

And O’Malley’s meeting activists face to face doesn’t necessarily mean he’s won them over yet. Mike Carberry, former chairman of the Johnson County Democratic Party and current candidate for county supervisor, told The Daily Beast that while he knows very little about the Maryland governor, he thought O’Malley had been “good and very impressive” so far. But Carberry noted that for fellow progressive Democrats, “Elizabeth Warren was No. 1 on the wish list” among prospective candidates to run against Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

For now, neither Warren nor Clinton are campaigning with long-shot Democrats in the Hawkeye State. O’Malley has that field to himself.