Stepping back up onto the metal chair from which he had addressed the crowd, the 2016 presidential aspirant proceeded to play his version of “Scare Away the Dark,” a song by an English folk-rock singer who goes by the name of Passenger that extols the value of genuine human connections in the modern world.
“We want something more, not just nasty and bitter,” O’Malley sang. “We want something real, not just hashtags and Twitter.”
As he aggressively positions himself for a possible White House bid, the performance underscored how much O’Malley’s thinking has evolved about his side career as a musician. When he first ran for governor in 2006, he announced he was retiring from his Celtic rock band, explaining that his advisers thought it detracted from his gravitas.
In the years since, the band, O’Malley’s March, has surfaced several times a year, including at a fundraiser for O'Malley's political action committee in Washington last week. And O’Malley, now 52, rarely hesitates to pick up a guitar when asked to perform in impromptu settings. The thinking now is that there’s no reason to hide an important part of who he is.
Many of the 75 or so people who attended Saturday night’s event, a fundraiser for the Pottawattamie County Democrats, seemed to agree.
“I think it shows his human side, just like how he had a beer afterward,” said Linda Nelson, chairwoman of the county Democrats. “It shows us he’s not much different than us.”
Kate Cutler, a longtime Democratic activist from Council Bluffs, echoed that sentiment, saying O’Malley’s musical talent “makes him seem like an ordinary person, from your high school glee club or something like that.”
“I’m a Peter, Paul and Mary person,” she added, “so I really liked it.”
The event capped off a two-day swing for O’Malley through Iowa, his first trip to the early nominating state this year. He plans to return early next month. O'Malley has said he is likely to announce by May whether he is moving forward with a presidential bid that will likely pit him against Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
Mike Gronstal, the majority leader of the Iowa state Senate, created some buzz at Saturday night’s event when he appeared wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with O’Malley’s new logo.
Gronstal, who supported Clinton in the 2008 Democratic caucuses, explained to the crowd that his wardrobe choice didn’t “necessarily mean that I’ve endorsed anybody,” adding that he would be happy to wear a T-shirt promoting any Democrat who comes to Iowa and who’s serious about running for president.
As for O’Malley, whom Gronstal introduced at the event, he said, “I think he could be a great president.”
O’Malley, who garnered some goodwill for helping fellow Democrats in Iowa last year, continued his giving ways during his latest trip.
Aides said that O’Malley presented $1,000 checks from his political action committee to three county Democratic parties whose members he addressed, including the Pottawattamie group. He gave another $1,000 while attending a fundraiser Saturday to benefit Democrats in the Iowa House of Representatives.
O’Malley’s itinerary Saturday also included a closed meeting with Latino leaders from Iowa, aides said.