Martin O’Malley is urging for a greater number of presidential primary debates than the six sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee, saying that the party otherwise will “cede the field” to Republicans, who saw 24 million viewers tune in to their first forum earlier this month.
After addressing the Young Democrats of America national convention in Los Angeles, O’Malley also suggested to reporters that more debates would shift daily attention on issues like Hillary Clinton’s State Department e-mails. The first debate is scheduled for Oct. 13 in Nevada.
“I think not having debates hurts our party and our label and what we have to offer in the fall,” he said. “In the absence of debates, then we are left with the daily news about our contest being all about questions that only she and her lawyers can answer about her e-mail. I don’t really have an answer for that.”
O’Malley’s L.A. visit on Thursday also included a small dinner with donors, as he tries to present himself as a generational alternative in a primary campaign that has so far focused on Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Sanders is gaining traction among the most vocal progressive activists, while Clinton has been locking up support among Hollywood campaign bundlers.
She has raised millions for her campaign from showbiz sources, while a superPAC supporting her candidacy collected about one-third of its fundraising haul so far this year from entertainment industry contributors like Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg.
“The Clintons are probably the most formidable politically organizing and fundraising couple that any Democratic, in the history of democratic republics,” O’Malley told reporters, adding that his campaign has a “very good core of support here in Los Angeles,” naming fund raisers such as Dixon Slingerland, executive director of the Youth Policy Institute, and Eric Paquette, a Sony Pictures executive.
“I believe that in these early states, people really don’t care about [fundraising] money, and in fact, big money can be a detriment at a certain point,” O’Malley added. “In fact, it can be a disqualifier, especially at a time when we are seeing more income inequality and concentration of wealth and corporate power than at any time since the Gilded Age.”
O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, devoted a portion of his speech to that populist message, including support for a $15-per-hour minimum wage and a recently announced plan to expand Social Security.
But he focused on the millennial voters in the audience, with proposals such as debt-free college tuition and a plan to cut youth unemployment. He also noted that this was a generation that was looking for a “new way of solving problems” that was entrepreneurial and collaborative. O’Malley is 52, Clinton is 67 and Sanders is 73.
“There is a tremendous generational shift going on there, and that is why I wanted to be here,” O’Malley told the audience. “And sadly most of the leaders of our party don’t even see that it is coming.” He garnered some of his biggest applause when he pointed out that he was the only candidate “that took the time and wanted to be here with you.”
Some of O’Malley’s industry supporters have said privately that they are backing him because of the need for a viable alternative should Clinton’s campaign seriously falter.
Still, O’Malley was at just 2% in a national poll this week, although he said he is concentrating on early states.
At the Young Democrats event, he said that he signed up “a ton of young Democrats to be county coordinators and for delegate slates.” Erin Carlstrom, a Santa Rosa, Calif., city councilwoman who is running to be president of the group, said that she found him to be “very real” with a lot of his comments, but she is still for Clinton, calling her “uniquely suited to take on the role” as the first woman president.
Sanders is the only 2016 presidential candidate so far to hold a rally in Los Angeles, filling the 17,500 seats in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena with a crowd that was heavy with prospective supporters in their 20s and 30s.
O’Malley said that “what is happening right now in the summer of anger and frustration is that as both parties look for a new leader, they are currently expressing their anger and discontent with the established leaders, by saying they are for the most anti-establishment candidates in both of our parties.” But he said that as the campaign progresses, “I think the dynamic will shift in the fall.”
Until then, O’Malley has gotten attention for referencing Trump. Earlier this week, he appeared in front of the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas to criticize Trump as hotel workers are engaged in a dispute over joining the Culinary Union. He delivered a zinger about Trump on Thursday.
“Donald Trump talks about deporting 11 million Americans,” O’Malley said. “I can only imagine his climate change proposal will be to start building and ark and marching in animals two by two.”