With barely three months left in his tenure, voters in heavily Democratic Maryland have grown weary of Martin O’Malley, their liberal-policy-embracing, tax-raising and guitar-slinging governor, and show markedly little enthusiasm for a presidential bid he is preparing to launch.
O’Malley’s job-approval rating has fallen to an eight-year low of 41 percent, with his biggest defections coming from fellow Democrats, while Hillary Rodham Clinton dominates the 2016 landscape even in O’Malley’s home state, a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll has found.
Clinton is the choice for president for 63 percent of Maryland Democrats, according to the poll, while O’Malley draws the support of only 3 percent, no better than Bernard Sanders, the independent socialist senator from Vermont. Vice President Biden also fares better in Maryland than O’Malley, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) draws similar support.
Moreover, more than 6-in-10 registered Democratic voters say their governor — who has served in Annapolis since 2007 — would not make a good president. O’Malley, who is in Iowa this weekend and declined to comment for this article, has said he is likely to decide whether to move forward with a White House bid before his term as governor ends in late January.
“I can’t exactly explain it,” said Shirley Webber, a Maryland voter who laughed when asked about O’Malley’s prospects for president — even though she thinks he has done a good job as governor.
“It’s just a feeling I have,” said Webber, a retired university administrative staffer who lives in Rockville. “He was fine as governor, but he just seems a little lightweight for president.”
While Webber said she has not settled on a candidate, she said she “would love to see a woman president — Hillary Clinton would be wonderful. It’s going to take a strong person to tidy up what’s going on in Washington.”
While presidential campaigns are often viewed skeptically at first by home-state voters, O’Malley’s support among those who know him best is so soft, some analysts say, that it should give him pause as he ponders a long-shot bid against Clinton.
“If O’Malley can’t win a primary in Maryland, how’s he going to win other states against her?” asked Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a longtime O’Malley observer.
O’Malley’s bid faces other home-state challenges as well, including a lack of early support from top Democrats in Maryland. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) have said they plan to back Clinton if she runs. And Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), O’Malley’s handpicked successor, declined to say last week whether he would back O’Malley over Clinton if both are in the race.
O’Malley’s standing in the poll can be attributed to a number of factors, some hardly unique to him. Amid continued anxiety over the economy, voters across the country are angry at politicians of all stripes this year, and most incumbents are not riding high. Few of the potential 2016 presidential candidates from either party have cracked 50 percent in recent surveys from their home states.
Although O’Malley is not on the ballot this year, his policies in Maryland — particularly a string of tax increases during his tenure — have come under heavy fire from other candidates. Months of attacks, including some from fellow Democrats, appear to have taken their toll, some analysts say.
Other observers suggest that the time O’Malley has spent crisscrossing the country, seeking to gain national exposure, has alienated some constituents in Maryland.
“Every time someone reads the governor is going to Iowa or New Hampshire, they believe he’s checked out,” Miller said. “That’s not the case, but the perception is he’s trying to sit on two stools at the same time, and a person who tries to sit on two stools at the same time often falls down.”
O’Malley’s standing among Maryland voters has slipped considerably since February , when a Post poll found that 54 percent of registered voters approved of the job he was doing as governor and 41 percent disapproved.
The latest survey finds 41 percent approve, while 48 percent disapprove. He remains at or above 50 percent in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and in Baltimore, but well below it in other regions of the state.
A majority of self-identified Democrats — 62 percent — still approve of O’Malley. But that number has plunged 17 percentage points since February.
Only 29 percent of independents and only 12 percent of Republicans approve of the job O’Malley is doing.
O’Malley has long been a polarizing figure, lauded by fellow Democrats — and even beloved by the fans of his Celtic rock band — but despised by Republicans.
His legacy will include legalization of same-sex marriage, a sweeping gun-control bill, repeal of the death penalty, several measures expanding immigrant rights and an increase in the minimum wage. He has also overseen multiple tax hikes during his tenure, including increases in personal income taxes paid by high earners, the corporate income tax, sales tax, gas tax, tobacco tax and alcohol tax.
Few of those actions have occurred since February, but the four Republican candidates for governor this year — including Larry Hogan, the party’s nominee — all ran on platforms that included rolling back the O’Malley tax increases. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who lost in the Democratic primary for governor, also spent millions on television ads, some of which criticized tax increases and other administration policies.
“O’Malley has been under constant attack, and he’s not in a position to respond with ads and commentary since he’s not running for office himself, so he’s had to just take it,” said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
With the campaign for his successor in full throttle, even when O’Malley has tried to draw attention to his accomplishments of late, the media has paid little attention. He has been conducting a “Governing for Results” tour, meant to highlight progress in various areas under his tenure, that typically draw no more than a few reporters.
Marc Farinella, a longtime Democratic operative, said it’s fairly common for a governor’s job approval numbers to take a hit when a lieutenant governor is running to succeed him.
He cited an example from 2008 in North Carolina. Because of attacks directed at the Democratic administration and its policies, the sitting governor, Mike Easley, “took on a lot of water” when then-Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue (D) ran for his job, said Farinella, who was in the state at the time to run Obama’s presidential campaign.
Schaller suggested voters are probably feeling a more general, “sort of long-term, end-of-term O’Malley fatigue.” That’s a phenomenon that’s happened with other two-term governors and presidents, he said. When former Maryland governor Parris N. Glendening (D) left office in 2003 after two terms, his approval rating had dipped to 37 percent, according to a Post poll. Glendening’s standing was undoubtedly affected by an affair with one of his deputy chiefs of staff while in office, however.
By contrast, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) maintained a 55 percent approval rating in 2006, shortly before he was defeated for reelection by O’Malley after serving a single term.
Antoinette Brown, who is 37 and unemployed, said she had hoped that O’Malley would do more to help bring jobs and development to her home county of Prince George’s, where O’Malley’s approval rating saw its steepest decline in the latest poll, falling from 82 to 58 percent.
“We haven’t progressed the way I thought we would in his last term,” said Brown, a Mount Rainier resident who said she voted for O’Malley in both his gubernatorial elections. “It’s like we’re stuck and can’t get out of the rut. . . . Because I’m young, I expected more, I suppose.”
It’s hardly a unique phenomenon for home-state voters to be skeptical of a presidential bid at first, analysts say.
Harrison Hickman, a longtime Democratic pollster, said that’s almost always the case. He rattled off several examples, including Bill Clinton, who was governor of Arkansas when he launched his first presidential bid.
“It’s hard to be a prophet in your own land,” Hickman said. “People struggle a little bit to think the guy they’ve seen make mistakes can go about being president of the United States. Part of it is over-familiarity with the person.”
“If I were Martin O’Malley, I wouldn’t worry about it,” Hickman said. “It’s the least of his worries if he’s going to run for president.”
Scott Clement contributed to this report.