For former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll serves as a sobering reminder of the tough slog ahead if he is going to emerge as a serious challenger to Hillary Rodham Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
O’Malley draws the support of 1 percent of the public nationally -- a figure that hasn’t budged in recent months as he has stepped up travel to early nominating states and seeks to position himself as a more liberal, forward-looking alternative to the former secretary of state.
O’Malley, who has said he will decide this spring whether to move forward with a White House bid, just returned from New Hampshire, where another new poll showed him barely registering among the electorate in that early primary state.
In The Post-ABC national survey, Clinton continues to hold a commanding lead over all other potential primary competitors, despite some recent controversies that have prompted some Democrats to look for possible alternatives. O’Malley has been one beneficiary, receiving a boomlet of media attention.
Sixty-six percent say they would vote for Clinton if their caucus or primary were held today. Vice President Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), neither of whom have said they plan to run, each draw 11 percent support. Former senator James Webb (Va.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are in the low single digits, along with O’Malley.
In recent weeks, O’Malley has taken two trips to New Hampshire and made swings through Iowa and South Carolina as he tests the waters for a presidential bid. He is scheduled to return next week to Iowa and later this month to South Carolina. O’Malley also put in multiple appearances in all those states and others last year as he campaigned alongside fellow Democrats on the 2014 ballot, seeking to boost his exposure.
He is also currently laboring to build a fundraising network that would allow him to compete against Clinton, who is expected to corral most of the party’s major donors.
In recent appearances before Democratic activists, O’Malley has been warmly received as he’s delivered populist speeches, calling for an array of initiatives to help the middle class.
But the reality, underscored by The Post poll and others, is that the former governor remains largely unknown among the larger electorate -- a situation advisers argue can be remedied in coming months after candidates formally get into the race and voters focus more closely on their choices.
“It’s the kind of situation where you keep plugging away, you build slowly, you build concentric circles of support,” said Rob Werner, a Concord City councilor who is encouraging an O’Malley bid in New Hampshire, the nation’s first primary state. “These situations can change really rapidly toward the end. I’m not saying you want to be in the single digits all the way, but people starting tuning in late, except for the activist crowd. You’ve got to be ready it for it.”
In the Franklin Pierce-Boston Herald survey of likely 2016 Democratic New Hampshire voters released this week, Clinton was the favorite of 47 percent, followed by Warren with 22 percent. Trailing were Biden, with 10 percent; Sanders, with 8 percent; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with 4 percent; and O’Malley, with 1 percent.
“There’s only one way to go,” O’Malley told reporters when asked about the poll following a well-attended breakfast in Bedford with business leaders and others. “It doesn’t bother me.”
He added: “History is full of examples where the frontrunner is the frontrunner and totally inevitable right up until the frontrunner is no longer the frontrunner and no longer inevitable.”
O’Malley was also asked about echoes of Warren in his rhetoric, particularly his calls to step up regulation of Wall Street and break up big banks.
He praised the senator from Massachusetts for “speaking with clarity” on some important issues.
And O’Malley added: “I’d welcome support from her supporters or anyone else were I to get in this race.”