The room was abuzz yesterday afternoon as long-shot presidential candidate Martin O’Malley spoke at Pitzer College’s Benson Auditorium. It was the first time that an active presidential candidate had visited the 52-year-old college.
O’Malley delivered fifteen minutes of remarks on fortifying the American Dream, waxing poetic about the “living mystery that is America.” Pitzer Interim President Thomas Poon introduced O’Malley, who inaugurated Pitzer Student Senate’s “Mindful of the Future” speaker series.
Josue Pasillas PZ ’17 was instrumental in organizing the event as the Vice President of Pitzer Student Senate.
“Student Senate here at Pitzer reached out to the three major Democratic Presidential campaigns, so Sanders, Clinton, and O’Malley,” Pasillas said. “And then, O’Malley was coming to L.A. on Thursday and Friday, so we managed to get on his list. They emailed me on Saturday and asked to talk with us. We talked with them and they said it was possible that he could come out. And on Sunday, they confirmed that he could come on Thursday evening. It was very short notice.”
Even with his experience as governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore, O’Malley remains on the far fringes of the Democratic primary behind frontrunner Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders.
Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College, said in an interview with TSL that O’Malley’s position in the race remains “lower than sweat on a slug’s knees.”
“He’s polling in the extremely low single digits, and unless something happens to Bernie Sanders, he has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination,” Pitney wrote in an email to TSL. “He’s raised a couple of million dollars, which sounds like a lot, but is 1/20 of what Clinton has raised and 1/8 of what Sanders has raised.”
Framing himself as an optimist, O’Malley attempted to distance himself from the “summer of anger and discontent,” making a not-so-subtle jab at Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, and perhaps even Sanders.
“We are really blessed, those of us who were born in America, to have received this gift of being citizens of the United States,” O’Malley said in his speech. “I am not a former Republican, I am not a former Independent, I am not a former Socialist. I am a Democrat.”
“My dad went to college on a GI Bill,” O’Malley told the more than 300 college students in attendance. “My daughter is graduating from college on a mountain of bills. We now saddle our graduates with more debt than any advanced nation on the planet.”
With the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary quickly approaching—the traditional markers of the start of the campaign season—O’Malley’s decision to visit Pitzer remains confounding.
“He’ll pretty much talk to anyone who will listen,” Pitney said. “I don’t think that he actually advances his cause. I’m sure he would much rather talk to a much larger audience of people with money in their pockets, but they don’t want to listen to him.”
During his speech, O’Malley alluded to his desire to recruit youth volunteers for the upcoming Democratic primary in Nevada, which often is overshadowed by the media spectacles of Iowa and New Hampshire.
“I can give rank and commission to you that no other campaign can offer,” he said.
While many attendees thought highly of his speech, it is unclear if it won over supporters of Sanders or Clinton.
“I would say that I think more of him now than before his speech, but my vote still stands with Sanders,” Jordan Hollinger PZ ‘19 said. “O’Malley convinced me to support him, but not to switch.”
Shayok Chakraborty PO ‘19, a Clinton supporter, characterized O’Malley as a “stock liberal politician” with impressive executive experience but vague views on foreign policy issues.
On Sept. 24, NPR reported that O’Malley resorted to busing in college students from Tufts University, many of whom were Sanders supporters, to bolster attendance at a rally in New Hampshire.
“I think one of the challenges he faces is that people don’t know him and his record outside of Maryland, which I think is one of the most progressive in the country,” Haley Morris, O’Malley’s press secretary, said. “I think part of our approach is making sure that college students have the chance to get to know him.”
Despite O’Malley’s low polling numbers and high odds of winning the Democratic nomination, the governor presses on. For now, he treks on nationwide, charisma and optimism in tow, trying to find a way to gain ground on his Democratic competitors.
Kevin Tidmarsh PO ’16 contributed reporting.