BALTIMORE — In another campaign year, Martin O’Malley’s résumé and good looks might be irresistible to Democratic primary voters. He is a former big-city mayor whose story of renewal in Baltimore seemed well-tailored to an increasingly urban and minority party. He is a former two-term governor of Maryland — and the lead singer and guitarist in a rock ’n’ roll band.
But O’Malley is running in an election cycle in which Democratic elected officials and donors have overwhelmingly focused attention on Hillary Rodham Clinton. And he already faces competition from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont for the support of liberals who dislike Clinton or merely want to see her pushed further to the left.
After a two-year exploratory phase, O’Malley, 52, on Saturday began making a case for why Democrats should bet on him instead of on Clinton or Sanders, who has captured early enthusiasm among liberals as an authentic populist.
“Today, the American dream seems for so many of us to be hanging by a thread,” he said in formally announcing his candidacy before hundreds of supporters under a baking sun in Federal Hill Park in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
“This is not the American dream,” he added. “It does not have to be this way. This generation of Americans still has time to become great. We must save our country now. And we will do that by rebuilding the dream.”
His aides say O’Malley is a true progressive, one who became involved early on the issue of same-sex marriage, and a scrappy underdog who takes to tough political fights. He staked out early ground on an immigration overhaul in 2014, accusing the Obama administration of heartlessness in deporting children who had crossed the border from Mexico.
But O’Malley was also a staunch supporter of Clinton in her 2008 presidential campaign, and he rose to prominence as a tough-on-crime mayor in Baltimore, a city scarred by drugs and violence.
It is unclear whether O’Malley can aggressively raise funds without a devoted base of support, which Sanders can draw on, or a raft of major donors, which Clinton enjoys.
Still, O’Malley’s team believes he fills a natural void in the Democratic primary, and Clinton’s team acknowledges that a significant portion of the primary electorate would probably favor someone else.
“Here you’ve got a clear generational divide, and a lot of Americans think about that,” said Gary Hart, a former Colorado senator and Democratic presidential candidate. “They are less inclined to divide themselves in the world between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ and more between the past and the future.”
That, Hart said, would give O’Malley an advantage.