BALTIMORE -- The crowd at Martin O’Malley’s campaign announcement here Saturday looked pretty standard for an American political-campaign event. Middle-age men danced as a blues band played. Parents watched as their kids frolicked on the playground. And everyone cheered enthusiastically when he said those magical words, “I am a candidate for President of the United States.”
But that doesn’t mean many of them were even sure he could win. Or that everybody in the crowd was happy he was there. But almost everyone who was behind O’Malley agreed that they would still vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should she ultimately become the Democratic Party’s nominee in the presidential election next year. And there was resounding adoration expressed for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- except nobody thought he would be able to win either the nomination or the election.
O’Malley enters the race far behind Clinton, in both fundraising and the polls. She was able to secure such a strong lead from the beginning that many doubt she can be caught in the next year. But the former two-term governor of Maryland is hoping that if anyone can best her, it’s him.
There were the unhappy attendees.
Demonstrators disrupted his speech multiple times -- although their positioning behind the press risers made it unclear whether O’Malley could even hear them. It was a small handful of protesters, including one who carried a cardboard sign and held an impromptu press conference in the middle of O’Malley’s speech, criticizing the former Baltimore mayor for his policies on policing while he was running the city. Others who were there to disrupt shouted “You are lying” and “What about police brutality?” as the candidate spoke.
When the announcement was over, additional demonstrators stood outside Federal Hill Park, where the event was held. One woman screamed into a bullhorn, “Why won’t O’Malley say, ‘Black lives matter?’” And one man carried a sign chastising the police as he repeatedly yelled profanities about O’Malley.
There were the enthusiastic.
Patty Larson, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, said she is throwing all her support behind O’Malley. She worked on his previous gubernatorial campaigns. And she’s not thrilled about Clinton, but ultimately would vote for her should she become the nominee.
“I think Hillary has just turned into a politician,” Larson said. “She’s been in it too long. She’s just too cautious.”
Jerry Martin, also of Chevy Chase, shared Larson’s sentiment. “I’m tired of Hillary. I’m tired of Bill. The whole dynasty thing, whether the Clintons or the Bushes,” he said. “You would think with a country of 300 million-plus people we could come up with a couple of other candidates. I think that’s why O’Malley gives people an option.”
Jonathan Oleisky, a Baltimore business owner, said the historic nature of the announcement drew him to the event. “It’s pretty historic, how many presidential announcements are we going to see from Federal Hill,” said Oleisky, referring to the neighborhood in Baltimore where the event occurred.
He’s backing O’Malley, and he’s optimistic the candidate will be able to compete against Clinton and the rest of the field. He pointed to Jimmy Carter as a candidate nobody thought was going to be able to win.
“Is it time for new leadership? Yes. Do I respect her? Absolutely. Would I support her if she wins the nomination? Absolutely,” Oleisky said. “But we need a spirited debate in the party.”
And, as a Baltimore resident, Oleisky said he credited O’Malley for announcing in the city instead of in Iowa. “He knows the city has challenges. He knows the country has challenges,” Oleisky said. “Some people say some of his policies contributed to it. I would say, I don’t think he’s an instigator of poverty.”
And there were the undecided.
“I’m interested in knowing more about him,” said Lynn Halperin, 72, of Baltimore. She was a Barack Obama supporter in the last presidential election and hasn’t decided who she wants to back this time. The retired artist -- who is from Massachusetts but made a stop in California’s Berkeley before moving to Maryland -- attended the rally in part because she lives across the street from the park where the announcement was made. Halperin said she still has a good deal of respect for Clinton.
“I admire her greatly,” Halperin said. “I think she probably knows a great deal about international relations. I’m just not there yet. I’m not totally convinced that she will be our best candidate.”
But Halperin wasn’t yet convinced that O’Malley could be the nominee, either, saying she just doesn’t know enough about him yet. “My suspicion is he will make a wonderful vice president or cabinet member, I personally don’t see him, based on the little I know, as a real presidential candidate.”
And while she’s a big fan of Sanders, Halperin doesn’t expect him to be able to compete. “I love him, but I’m in the right age demographic for that and I’m from New England, but he’s not viable,” she said. “I just think he’s adding some wonderful interest and wonderful conversations to the debate.”
Ryan Ferguson, 25, decided that because he lives so close in nearby Washington, he wanted to make the trip to see a presidential announcement. He likes O’Malley, but wouldn’t oppose Clinton if she were the nominee. “It’s good to have people in the primary,” Ferguson said. Likewise, he said, Bernie Sanders brings something to the debate. “I like him as a senator,” he said.