WASHINGTON – As a gaggle of potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates ride the latest Trump controversy, Martin O'Malley is taking a subtler path through various key states, including Florida this week, helping down ballot candidates and seeking to boost his profile as an alternative to the noise.
"We're all now a little exhausted by the anger," O'Malley told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday afternoon as he completed a campaign day with a pair of state House candidates and U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy. He also met with March For Our Lives students in Orlando.
"So much of politics is timing, isn't it? In 2016, folks wanted to park in the angry lane and throw the keys out the window," said the former Maryland governor and presidential candidate who dropped out after a dismal showing in Iowa. "There is a different mood now. People are looking for decent men and women that will actually listen to them."
O'Malley, 55, says he won't decide on a run until at least the end of the year, but he's visited important states often in recent months. His Florida visit this week is the fifth since September, with a focus on legislative candidates.
"We can all bemoan just how unrepresentative and gerrymandered our Congress has become," he said, "but we let it happen when we allowed our governors to get wiped out and when we allowed our state legislatures to be taken away from us.
"The good news is that right now, there is a dawning realization across the whole broad spectrum of the Democratic Party that the states matter. In order to save the United States, we have to win back our own states."
O'Malley has campaigned in Florida with now state Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami and Reps. Margaret Good, of Sarasota, and Javier Fernandez, also of Miami. On Monday he stumped with candidates Lee Mangold (HD-28) and Anna Eskamani (HD-47) in addition to appearing with Murphy, a rookie who is considered a rising prospect for Democrats, and meeting with student activists.
Trump has been good for candidate recruitment, O'Malley said, but winning post-Trump Democratic candidates across the country aren't making him a focus — "He's sort of the dark backdrop." — instead conveying to voters what they will do about moribund wages and rising health care and college costs.
"That anxiety which expressed itself in the anger of 2016, breaking the table of our democracy — the mood has definitely shifted across the country," O'Malley argued. "People are listening for those messages of solidarity, decency, dignity and opportunity. And all of those messages are not the sort of words that people are hearing out of the 24/7 news cycle from the White House."
He says the initial run for president has given him experience.
"There are aspects about it that intimidate not at all like they might of the first time around. If our country gets to a point where we want leaders that can bring us together and that actually can get things done and make our economy more inclusive and our country and our cities safer, I think I would have a lot to offer."