Preparing for a likely presidential campaign, Democrat Martin O’Malley is pointing to Baltimore’s recent unrest as a stark reminder of the nation’s economic divide and lingering poverty in cities.
The former Maryland governor was meeting with Democratic activists Wednesday in New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first presidential primary, as he nears a decision on whether to seek the party’s nomination and challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
O’Malley’s record as Baltimore’s mayor a decade ago has faced scrutiny since rioting broke out in the city following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody. O’Malley has defended his work to curb violent crime in Baltimore as mayor from 1999 to 2006 and signaled it would play a leading role if he enters the presidential race.
“This should be a wake-up call,” O’Malley said last week in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Clinton, who won the state’s presidential primary in 2008, has been locking up support from top New Hampshire Democrats. In a show of strength, her campaign said Tuesday it had recruited about 1,000 volunteers in the state and was assembling networks of supporters from regions of the state and those focused on economic, family and security issues.
Prior to the riots, O’Malley often described Baltimore as a comeback city that overcame drug addiction and crime. He has called the protests and disturbances a setback for his hometown but couldn’t imagine launching a campaign anywhere other than Baltimore.
O’Malley was stopping at a Manchester restaurant and a hub for local entrepreneurs and then raising money for Democratic legislators in Concord and meeting with Democrats at a Durham house party. Local Democrats said they were interested in hearing O’Malley discuss the city’s riots and efforts to overcome poverty.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” said Democrat Chris Pappas, an elected member of the state’s executive council who is planning to support Clinton. “It’s something he’ll have to address.”
If O’Malley enters the race, he would join Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent and the only major Democratic candidate besides Clinton. Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb are pondering bids.
“Whether it’s possible for O’Malley or anybody else to consolidate undecided Democrats and make the race competitive is an open question,” said Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist who advised former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid. “I think it’s extraordinarily difficult, but in our party anything can happen.”
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