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O'Malley: Clinton foil or formidable Democrat contender?

O'Malley: Clinton foil or formidable Democrat contender? O'Malley: Clinton foil or formidable Democrat contender?

 Maryland ex-governor Martin O'Malley is all but certain to unveil his White House campaign Saturday, amid debate about whether he is a viable contender or merely a foil for Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, AFP reports.

With O'Malley virtually unknown in middle America, voters for now appear indifferent to his candidacy: a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday shows he has one percent of Democratic support.

O'Malley, a loyal Clinton backer during her 2008 campaign, will roll out his 2016 national ambitions in Baltimore, where he served as mayor before moving to the governor's mansion.

He is comparatively young at 52, and while he avoids directly addressing Clinton's age, O'Malley comes off as a new-generation Democrat wooing "under-40" voters disconnected from Clinton, who is 67, and 73-year-old leftist Senator Bernie Sanders, the only other declared candidate in the Democratic field.

Last month, O'Malley, the banjo-playing frontman of Irish folk-rock band O'Malley's March, stressed that voters recognize a need to "change the way we govern."

"He's a really attractive candidate. He's young, he's fit, he plays in a rock-and-roll band, he's Irish, he's a Catholic," Tim Malloy, assistant director of Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, told AFP.

"He's different from some of the other candidates."

Yet most Americans draw a blank with O'Malley. In Thursday's poll, 80 percent of respondents said they did not know enough about him.

O'Malley began his political activism as a young aide on Gary Hart's doomed 1984 presidential campaign.

His local profile rose when he became mayor of Baltimore, experience which serves as a double-edged sword for him today.

Baltimore was scarred by riots last month, highlighting alleged police brutality and the rise of "zero-tolerance" tactics -- crime-fighting policies introduced by O'Malley which have been criticized for straining relations between poor communities and law enforcement.

The violence that followed the death in police custody of a 25-year-old black man threw harsh light on the inequalities facing Baltimore's inner-city minorities.

As images of looted shops and rampaging youths circled the globe, O'Malley expressed heartbreak over Charm City's "loss and pain," but has defended his approach for reducing crime.

After decades in Maryland politics, O'Malley has signaled he is ready for the national stage.

"I haven't traveled the world as widely as some others," he told The New York Times, in a clear reference to Clinton's tenure as top diplomat.

"But I certainly have traveled the length and breadth of this gap between the ideal of who we are as a people and the places where we are falling far short."

     Willing to attack Clinton? 

 O'Malley has used his Maryland leadership as a showcase of progressive achievement.

He led the charge to legalize gay marriage, ended Maryland's death penalty, and raised its minimum wage.

He opposes the free-trade accord under negotiation with 11 other Pacific Rim countries, warning it would ship American middle-class jobs overseas.

Clinton has remained on the sidelines about the issue, which O'Malley could exploit.

"The question is really how aggressive will his campaign be" in attacking Clinton, said Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report.

"We don't know the answer to that."

Republican opponents are already hammering Clinton on issues like the deadly attacks on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, and her use of a private email account while secretary of state.

O'Malley has pledged to run a positive campaign, but the mud could fly if he chooses to exploit such weaknesses.

With a David-versus-Goliath political battle looming, O'Malley could do well to cast himself "as a city and state executive rather than those defined by Washington, and Clinton is defined by Washington," Walter said.

Despite his poor showings in current polls, O'Malley rejects the notion that the party primary will be an automatic Clinton coronation.

History is full of examples, he told National Public Radio, of years when frontrunners "remained inevitable right up until the first contest, when all of us saw that that frontrunner was no longer inevitable."

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