Martin O’Malley seeks contrast with other Democrats

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley speaks at the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines on Saturday, Oct. 24.

Alex Hanson

Editors note: This story has been updated with a statement from the Sanders campaign.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has found himself as the odd man out in what has mostly become a two-way race for the Democratic presidential nomination — but O’Malley will not rest as he continues to campaign aggressively in Iowa, seeking to differentiate himself from his opponents.

O’Malley’s campaign has capitalized on a series of newsworthy items in the past few weeks. Those items include comments made by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Iowa Caucus, and amid new chatter on gun restrictions, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ history on gun legislation while in Congress.

O’Malley addressed both items in an interview with the Iowa State Daily on Monday.

In a new batch of emails released last week, Clinton privately called the Iowa precinct Caucuses the “creatures of the parties extremes” in an email to confidante Sidney Blumenthal. Clinton was the presumed nominee in 2008, but then-Sen. Barack Obama won the Caucus with Clinton unable to even edge out Sen. John Edwards.

“I think Secretary Clinton has had a long, strange relationship with Iowa,” O’Malley said. “She didn’t do very well here in the caucuses eight years ago, and I suppose she’s trying to brush that off as if people who go to their caucuses are extremists.”

A spokesperson for Clinton’s Iowa campaign pushed back on criticism in a statement sent to CNN.

“From day one of this campaign, Hillary Clinton has been committed to earning the support of every Iowan in February’s caucus — any suggestion otherwise is just flat out wrong,” said spokeswoman Lily Adams. “That’s why she made her first stop of this campaign in the Hawkeye State and why she continues to meet with Iowans in town halls, coffee shops and living rooms to discuss her plan to build an America where everyone can get ahead.”

Clinton has hosted 53 events in Iowa in 2015, while O’Malley has done just over 100 this year, according to records from The Des Moines Register. He also made more than two dozen appearances in the state during 2014, mostly appearing with other candidates and raising money while he flirted with a presidential campaign.

However, while he has made double the amount of appearances as Clinton in the first-in-the-nation voting state, his poll numbers do not show it. An average of polls from Real Clear Politics in Iowa shows him averaging just 4.3 percent to Clinton’s 51.7 percent. Sanders averages 40.7 percent.

“I’ve found that people who have an interest in going to their caucus take their responsibility in this presidential contest very, very seriously and responsibly,” O’Malley said. “If they’re extreme, it’s only that they’re extremely interested in our country’s future and their kids’ ability to enjoy a healthier, safer and more prosperous life.”

In the wake of the San Bernardino shootings that killed 14 and injured another 17, O’Malley’s campaign has continued to aggressively push for new gun safety legislation.

O’Malley has called for a wide array of new gun reforms, including universal background checks, creating a national registry to track firearms, closing certain loopholes that allow dangerous individuals to purchase guns, along with several other regulations.

In a speech to the nation on Sunday, Obama called on Congress to ban anyone on the no-fly list from being able to purchase a weapon. Some Republicans have argued that similar legislation would erode at individuals’ due process rights, as anyone can be put on similar lists for mere suspicion of being involved in terror.

“Certainly we could create a mechanism to appeal and address the due process concerns,” O’Malley said in response. “I think it makes absolutely no sense that we make it so easy for people in our own country, including those on the no-fly list, to buy combat assault weapons.”

The day after the California shooting, Senate Democrats forced a vote on the measure to block anyone on the no-fly list from purchasing a gun, but it failed on a mostly party line vote.

As president, O’Malley said he would be consistent on calling on Congress to pass legislation, even as Congress has blocked any new reforms.

“I think as an executive, you have to be relentless,” O’Malley said. “Relentless in not only calling every member of Congress but also never giving up and coming back the next year with another bill. You’ve got to keep the pressure on and you’ve got to keep building the public consensus that representatives are reflecting the will of the people.”

O’Malley’s campaign has also called out Sanders for his record on gun control legislation in Congress, and specifically a vote that shielded gun manufacturers from being held liable in gun crimes.

“It’s a very important difference among us in this race,” O’Malley said. “Sen. Sanders was [a part of] a group of members who lacked the backbone to stand up to the NRA. I think it’s outrageous and that’s not leadership — it’s a key difference in this race.”

Rania Batrice, a spokesperson for the Sanders campaign in Iowa, responded to the criticism in an emailed statement.

Bernie Sanders has worked very hard throughout his career to earn his F rating from the NRA,” Batrice said. “Time and time again, he has defied the NRAby voting for bans on assault weapons, efforts to close the gun-show loophole, tougher regulations on high capacity magazines, expanding background checks, and preserving Washington, DC’s strict gun laws.”

She added, as president, Sanders would pursue a wide range of reforms to gun laws.

“As president, Sen. Sanders is uniquely positioned to conduct a constructive dialogue as he continues fighting for common-sense gun safety measures,” Batrice said. “With his call for a political revolution and his willingness to take on Wall Street and the billionaire class, Sanders is perfectly positioned continue defying the corporate interests behind the NRA. Only when millions of Americans unite and demand common-sense gun laws will we be able to break the NRA’s special interest control over Congress.”

O’Malley also responded to President Obama’s national address from Sunday, saying he expects the president to continue having conversations with the United States about national security and his strategy on ISIS.

“I thought it was important that he would address us personally on this,” O’Malley said.

He also praised Obama for his comments on not being drug into another long and costly war in the Middle East and for saying the fight should not be the United States vs. Islam.

As for O’Malley’s campaign, he said in an interview with the Daily in November that his campaign does not solely pay attention to polls and fundraising, but several news reports after the Des Moines debate last month said his campaign operation was moving staffers to Iowa to save money amid financial troubles.

A mid-November report from The Washington Post said his campaign was “perilously close to financial collapse.”

O’Malley said he has encouraged staff from headquarters in Baltimore to “take a piece of the action” in counties across Iowa, but he also said his team remains confident leading up to February’s caucus.

O’Malley took part in several forums Monday while in Iowa and has three more forums planned for Tuesday — including a stop at the University of Iowa.