At the dawn of her presidential campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton finds herself outflanked on the left by a former Maryland governor with little national reputation but many of the populist political talents she lacks.
Martin O’Malley is using Clinton’s closely watched and long-anticipated 2016 launch to raise his profile ahead of his own likely entry into the race next month. He has seized on specific economic and social policy issues, including same-sex marriage and an international trade deal, in a bid to raise questions about Clinton’s liberal bona fides.
The attacks — some more thinly veiled than others — have forced Clinton to explain herself on a number of difficult topics, which was not part of her plan for a gradual roll-out with an emphasis on middle-class economic issues. It is a remarkable feat for an undeclared candidate who still lingers at the bottom of polls in a thin Democratic field.
It’s deja vu all over again! Some nobody named Obama came out of left field last time and beat her to a pulp. This time, it’s a white guy named O’Malley. And Clinton’ll have just as little game against him as she did the last time against Barry.
For Clinton — whose lack of significant opposition is off-putting to many progressives — O’Malley can be a useful foil, and her campaign is mindful not to be too heavyhanded with him. But if he continues to confront her, aides and advisers say, Clinton could be forced into open conflict with her party’s left flank far earlier in the race than she had hoped.
Sure, O’Malley’s nowhere in the polls at the moment. But then, so was the Emperor Hussein once upon a time.
Clinton holds a lead over any potential primary challenger that is unprecedented in the modern political era. But her advisers know she is most exposed for the moment on her left, and, after her 2008 loss to upstart Obama, they say she is leaving little to chance.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), whose broadsides against Wall Street gluttony have made her the darling of progressives, has said she is not running. She has so far declined to endorse Clinton, saying she wants to know what Clinton will run on. And Clinton appears to be courting the Warren faction by running to the left on a number of issues. O’Malley’s hard charge is an effort to give those same activists an alternative.