Hillary Clinton may be the front-runner. Bernie Sanders may be drawing big crowds. Martin O'Malley wants to be known as the big ideas candidate for the Democratic nomination, meeting one voter at a time and never quitting.
The former Maryland governor lags behind Clinton and Sanders in the RealClearPolitics polling average, at just 1.3 percent nationally. He was booed at a liberal conference.
But since launching his campaign May 30 in Baltimore, where he was once mayor, O'Malley released numerous lengthy policy proposals: a ten-page white paper on economics, a detailed foreign policy speech and a plan for using executive power to protect more illegal immigrants from deportation.
O'Malley said he supported the $15 minimum wage the day before Clinton failed to endorse it. After he laid out his immigration policy, Clinton's team released a video with footage of young undocumented immigrants who would benefit from the Dream Act expressing their support for her. At one point, he even called out the Democratic front-runner for being slow to oppose "bad trade deals" like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
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What O'Malley hasn't done is raise big money. During the second quarter his campaign only brought in $2 million, compared to Clinton's $46 million.
The method his staff calls "aggressive," "old school retail campaigning," has a personal touch they believe that other Democrat candidates cannot match. During the month of June O'Malley held 19 public events, and engaged in 19 press gaggles in Iowa alone.
By the end of the summer O'Malley plans to hold events in one-fourth of Iowa's 99 counties, meeting individually with voters.
"I plan to do what so many other candidates of substance have done here in Iowa, and that is to go one person at a time, one living room at a time, one day at a time," O'Malley told the Washington Examiner.
He added, "There are a couple of rules of thumb. One is that in any given year the inevitable front-runner is only inevitable until caucus night. The other one is whatever challenger surging in June is never the candidate surging in January. "
O'Malley said that he intends to offer a campaign of ideas and substance, and he will take that "to every town in Iowa, to living rooms of people, to small church basements and everywhere I can and stitch together an organization." Over the next few months the campaign plans to "greatly increase name recognition" and forge ahead in the polls.
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The former Maryland governor is basing his whole campaign on Iowa. During the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Dinner on Friday, O'Malley held his own against Clinton and Sanders, gaining steady applause and numerous standing ovations.
Outside the dinner, O'Malley and Clinton supporters dueled from across street corners, chanting and waving signs. Although the O'Malley supporters were smaller in number, they were just as loud. Sanders had no group of supporters outside the arena.
While onstage, O'Malley touted his executive experience, stating that "I am not the only Democratic candidate with progressive values, but I am the only candidate for president with 15 years of executive experience."
He also spoke of his progressive accomplishments in Maryland: gay marriage, the Dream Act, making college more affordable.
"We didn't just talk about it, we got it done," he told the crowd, an obvious dig at his opponents' track records.
Talking is one thing Clinton has been accused of not doing, at least when it comes to the press. By contrast, O'Malley's staff says one of their biggest problems is getting the governor "away from the press. He loves to talk."
At an event in a small, humid church basement on Thursday in Des Moines O'Malley spent an hour laying out his immigration plans, and another half hour after that chatting with those in attendance, before taking multiple questions from the press.
When asked why he spends so much time on the small events, and what his plan is going forward, O'Malley offered an analogy: "Do you know the slogan of the University of Maryland Terrapins?" he asked. "Fear the Turtle."