O’Malley lauds retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, exhorts Democrats on two-day trip to Iowa

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Saturday urged nearly 400 Democratic activists here to work to “recapture the America that we carry in our hearts” as part of a two-day swing through the first presidential nominating state.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of the cynicism,” O’Malley (D) said in his address to an Iowa Democratic Party convention. “I’ve had enough of the apathy. I’ve had enough of us giving in to self-pity, small solutions and low expectations of one another. Let’s remember who we are.”

O’Malley, who is preparing for a possible 2016 White House bid, also used the speech to tout his record as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland and to cheerlead for Democrats on the ballot this fall in several competitive races in Iowa. He received a standing ovation upon finishing.

The speech was the second in as many days to a large group of activists assembled here. On Friday night, O’Malley traded accolades with retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) at a well-attended dinner at which Harkin was inducted into the state Democratic party’s Hall of Fame.

O’Malley, the only potential 2016 presidential candidate to appear in person, told the gathering of hundreds of Harkin loyalists that during his more than 39 years in Washington, the senator had “fostered monumental change,” including with his signature legislative achievement, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I am very, very blessed and fortunate to call you my friend, and more importantly, the people of Iowa and the people of the United States are forever blessed by your virtuous service,” O’Malley said during his turn at the podium.

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden — two far better-known aspirants weighing 2016 presidential bids — paid tribute to Harkin in pre-recorded videos, as did President Obama.

In her video, Clinton teased that she needed advice from Harkin as she prepares to take a “momentous plunge.”

“Tom, what’s the secret to being such a terrific grandparent?” she asked.

In his remarks at the close of the program, Harkin praised O’Malley as “one of my heroes,” citing a long list of progressive legislation passed during his tenure in Maryland.

Among the new laws cited by Harkin were an increase in the minimum wage, the legalization of same-sex marriage, far-reaching gun-control measures and the state’s version of the “Dream Act,” which extends in-state college tuition rates to undocumented immigrants in certain cases.

O’Malley mentioned those initiatives and others in his speech Saturday, and he also sought to make the case that Maryland has excelled at job creation.

The trip came just a week after O’Malley traveled to New Hampshire, another early nominating state, to deliver a speech at a Flag Day dinner hosted by Manchester Democrats. While O’Malley has acknowledged he is preparing for a possible presidential bid, aides insist he has made no decision about whether to run.

The trip to Iowa was the first for O’Malley since 2012, when he spoke at an annual steak fry hosted by Harkin.

As part of a full itinerary on this trip, O’Malley also had breakfast with labor leaders and addressed a group of county Democrats preparing to go door-to-door to promote the party’s candidates. O’Malley was also scheduled to accompany Jack Hatch, the Iowa Democratic nominee for governor, to a series of fundraisers around the state on Saturday. Events were planned in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Dubuque.

O’Malley is being accompanied in Iowa by his 16-year-old son, William.

Before arriving in Iowa on Friday afternoon, O’Malley also appeared at a fundraiser in Ann Arbor for Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer.

The American with Disabilities Act that Harkin championed has required buildings and transportation to be wheelchair-accessible and required employers to provide workplace accommodations for people with disabilities.

O’Malley told the crowd Friday night that its impact has been profound.

“There was a time when we accepted discrimination, oftentimes when it happened in plain sight, because that’s just the way it had always been — cruelty and uncaring toward those Americans among us with disabilities,” O’Malley said.

The Maryland governor also praised Harkin’s efforts to raise the nation’s minimum wage and expand health care during his nearly four decades in Washington.

“Even more important than his length of service, I believe, is his strength of service — a strength that has always flowed from his belief in the dignity of every individual and his belief in our responsibility to advance the common good,” O’Malley said.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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