One reason Democrats fared poorly in this month’s elections is that the party’s voters were turned off by “purely negative” campaigns that didn’t speak to issues facing them, outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said this week.
“We sell citizens short when we engage in campaigns as if it’s some sort of gladiatorial combat against the other when what we should be speaking to are the challenges facing us,” O’Malley said.
His assessment came during an appearance Wednesday at a gathering sponsored by a progressive think tank in Ottawa, a stop on a two-day trip by O’Malley to Canada. A recording of his remarks is available on the Web site of the think tank, Canada 2020.
O’Malley did not specifically mention the Nov. 4 defeat of his handpicked successor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D), in heavily Democratic Maryland. But O’Malley’s broader critique echoed those of some other analysts who have sought to explain the success of Republican Larry Hogan. And O’Malley offered his own reelection in 2010 as a contrast, saying that he had prevailed by 14 percentage points despite having made some unpopular decisions about raising taxes.
During a question-and-answer session following a speech by O’Malley, he told Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, that his campaign threw plenty of punches in 2010 against his Republican opponent. But O’Malley said his message that year also included “that better story of the better choices we can and must make together.” Maryland, for example, was able to continue to make record investments in its schools, he said.
O’Malley said that Democrats who lost this year failed to make that kind of case. He blamed media consultants for preferring more negative campaigns.
“It’s a lot more predictable to create cookie-cutter ads and just splice in a different face, a different name, try to disqualify and drive cooling rods into the other opponent’s head on this issue or that issue, but I think our people are a little ahead of us on that, and I think they have grown impatient with the sort of ticky-tacky back-and-forth,” O’Malley said.
“There was a much more negative reaction within our own [Democratic] base to campaigns that were purely negative . . . because they expect better of us,” he added.
In Maryland, voter turnout in the largest Democratic jurisdictions — including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — was down this year.
Some Democrats have blamed voter fatigue with O’Malley’s tax policies for creating a difficult environment for Brown’s campaign.
During his speech at the event sponsored by the think tank, O’Malley, who is weighing a 2016 White House bid, touted a range of policy accomplishments in Maryland, including raising the minimum wage, legalizing same-sex marriage and enacting a sweeping gun-control bill.
And O’Malley defended his decision to raise taxes in some cases.
“History has shown that no great country ever cut its way to prosperity,” O’Malley said.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is widely expected to announce her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination early next year, addressed the same think thank last month. An O’Malley aide said the governor’s appearance grew out of a meeting in Washington last year with Justin Trudeau, the eldest son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
While in Canada, O’Malley also made stops in Toronto, including a Tuesday meeting with Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario.
On Wednesday, while in Ottawa, O’Malley met with John Baird, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, and witnessed the question period in the Canadian Parliament.
“I wish we had question time in our own state,” he later told his audience at the think tank gathering. “I would really enjoy it.”