NASHUA, N.H. -- Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley sharpened his populist rhetoric as he addressed a group of young Democrats here Tuesday night, telling them that politics “is not the exclusive domain of the ultra-wealthy.”
“There is no reason that billionaires should crowd of us from ownership of our democracy,” O’Malley told the group, packed into a basement room of a popular restaurant. “We need everybody’s help, because the question on the table is this: As you grow up, and you raise your children here in the United States of America, do you want our country to be a country where only the rich can get ahead? Or do you want it to be a country where all of us can get ahead?”
O’Malley’s address to a gathering sponsored by the New Hampshire Young Democrats capped off a busy day in the nation’s first presidential primary state. Earlier Tuesday, O’Malley, who is weighing an uphill challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination, appeared at “Politics and Eggs” forum in Bedford, considered a rite of passage for potential White House contenders. It was sponsored by an array of corporations.
O’Malley seemed particularly energized in front of the younger crowd, borrowing a guitar after his remarks to play “This Land Is Your Land,” the 1940s folk song by Woody Guthrie. By the end, the crowd was singing along with O’Malley, who leads a semi-retired Celtic rock band that bears his name.
He began his remarks by relaying his experience in New Hampshire as a 20-year-old volunteer for Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign.
“My knees were knocking together, and I had to get over my shy, introverted inhibitions to knock on that first door,” O’Malley said. “But I learned … stuck with me the rest of my life. It is the power of one individual talking to another individual about the hopes and the dreams that we share together.”
O’Malley -- who recently has sounded a lot like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a favorite of liberal activists -- lamented that a country that had been “a land of opportunity” has been threatened by “bad decisions” made by politicians over the past few decades.
“Wealth and power have been concentrated among the very few, and we’re all paying for it,” he said. “We’re paying for it in wages that are lower now than they were 12 years ago. We’re paying for it in college debt that makes it harder for people to actually send their kids to college and contribute to the innovate, creative, productive life of our economy and our country.”
O’Malley, who said the country needs new leadership, talked about some of the initiatives he spearheaded in Maryland, including raising the minimum wage and expanding collective bargaining.
He was well-received both here and in Bedford, though many in the audiences at his two public events were skeptical of O’Malley’s ability to compete against Clinton, who had a commanding lead in a new poll of likely New Hampshire voters released Tuesday.
Huck Montgomery, a 29-year-old campaign consultant who attended the young Democrats event, said that “we’re glad to have a strong progressive voice talking about the issues that matter.”
Montgomery, a Concord resident, said he was particularly pleased that O’Malley brought up steps he had taken to benefit labor unions, including expanding the number of state-sponsored construction jobs subject to a higher “prevailing wage.”
Montgomery also brought the acoustic guitar to the event that O’Malley played. Afterward, he had O’Malley autograph it.
Barbara Pressly, a former state senator who also attended the event, said she found O’Malley “absolutely charming” and said she appreciated his call to expand participation in politics.
“I think there’s a certain element in the party that likes new faces,” Pressly said. But, she added, if Clinton gets in the race, the former secretary of state will have her vote.