Democrats in the emerging 2016 presidential field angled for exposure on the morning talk-show circuit on Sunday as the formidable front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, stayed out of the fray and sent emissaries instead.
Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and former Virginia senator James Webb pitched themselves as possible alternatives, with O’Malley declaring during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that it would be “an extreme poverty indeed” if no Democrat mounted a serious challenge to Clinton for the nomination.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), another potential Democratic rival, appeared on "Fox News Sunday" and said he is prepared to move forward if he determines he can raise enough money to run a credible race.
Webb asserted that there is “a lot of incumbent fatigue in the country” and, during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” he declined to say whether he would support Clinton if she becomes the Democratic nominee.
“You know, I’m focusing on what we will be trying to do here,” Webb said. “I think Secretary Clinton has plenty of opportunity to sit here and give you her thoughts.”
The Clinton camp was represented Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a longtime friend of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, who praised the rollout of Hillary Clinton's campaign and trip to Iowa last week as “spectacular.”
“She got in the van, she drove out, she actually sat with" people, McAuliffe said. "She went to a community college, she took notes."
He said it was fine that the large Republican field is focusing so much of its attention on Clinton.
"Every second they're not talking about how they want to move this country forward is a great one for Hillary Clinton,” McAuliffe said. “Let the Republicans spend all their time attacking. That's fine. You need a positive agenda of how you move folks forward."
Among others making Clinton's case Sunday was Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who appeared on ABC's "This Week" and praised Clinton as someone who "doesn't need to get briefed about the complicated world we live in."
On CNN, Webb suggested that Democratic voters, too, will be looking for “fresh approaches” and that he fits that mold better than Clinton.
“We’re never going to have this financial leviathan machine that’s going to pull in $2.5 billion as some people do,” Webb said. “I’m never going to have a political consultant at my side whispering what I should say or how I should dress or whether I ought to go to Wal-Mart or not. But what we do have is long experience on the issues, in and out of government, strong beliefs about where the country needs to go and I think the kind of leadership where we can govern.”
Asked on CBS why he would be a better candidate than Clinton, O’Malley talked up his 15 years of “executive experience” — seven as mayor of Baltimore and eight as governor of Maryland.
“I guided our state through this recession, and I did so with results that actually matter,” O’Malley said.
He also took a not-so-subtle shot at Clinton when asked about the rollout of her campaign. While O’Malley said he wouldn’t “second-guess her strategies and tactics,” he added, “You can’t forge public opinion by following public opinion.”
That was a reference to several positions announced by Clinton during the past week that brought her views more in line with liberal activists in the party — and those previously put forth by O’Malley.
Clinton last week announced her support for a constitutional amendment making same-sex marriage a national right, rather than leaving it to the states. She voiced support for granting driver’s licenses to immigrants, an issue on which she equivocated during her 2008 run for president. And she said she is withholding judgment on a trade pact being pushed by President Obama that she had supported as secretary of state.
O’Malley said that anyone with executive experience, the ability to govern and fresh ideas should put themselves forward as a presidential candidate and let voters decide their fate.
“If we do that, we can be the party that leads our country into the future,” he said. “But we won’t do it if we don’t offer new ideas for the future and break with things like bad trade deals, the systematic deregulation of Wall Street that many Democrats were complicit in and helped get us into this mess.”
On Fox, Sanders also pressed the case for Wall Street reform and spoke out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade pact that Obama is championing.
“I hope very much the secretary comes out against it,” Sanders said, referring to Clinton. “We do not need to send more jobs to low-wage countries.”
This weekend, Sanders was in New Hampshire, home to the first presidential primaries.
O’Malley plans to appear in South Carolina, another early nominating state, this coming weekend. Webb said he plans to return to Iowa in about a week. Clinton is scheduled to be in New Hampshire on Monday.
Besides O’Malley, Webb and Sanders, former Rhode Island governor and senator Lincoln Chafee is also considering a challenge to Clinton.
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.