WASHINGTON — On what was actually a good night for Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor still ended up having to stop, stare into a camcorder, and take questions from a young black activist and a young white Bernie Sanders volunteer.
O’Malley was there on Tuesday night, at a packed bar near the D.C. Convention Center, to meet with — and fundraise off — young Washington professionals.
Far away from the bustling campaign trail of Iowa and New Hampshire, though, O’Malley was confronted by some of the demons that have been dogging him in his bid for the nomination. He also showcased the endurance and patience that have defined his underdog presidential campaign so far.
Hosted at the trendy downtown bar Baby Wale, the standard-issue D.C. fundraiser featured a drink list heavy on craft beer. Attendees sipped on it along with wine from the open bar and waited for O’Malley to arrive — he was late due to unexpectedly tough traffic between his headquarters in Baltimore and the event in downtown D.C. Befitting a crowd in the nation’s capital, attendees were wary of talking with a reporter, even when asked questions like “Why do you like Martin O’Malley?”
“What’s not to like?” one attendee said before scurrying off.
O’Malley staffers were elated by the event. And there was a lot to be proud of: More than 300 packed the bar, an event organizer and O’Malley staffer told supporters. More than $40,000 was raised, a serious sum for a candidate whose fundraising has lagged behind both of his Democratic opponents.
For the most part, the execution was flawless. O’Malley was introduced by his teenage son, William, who gave a practiced and easy rendition of his dad’s stump speech, hitting on his father’s plans to make college debt-free among other Millennial-friendly proposals. Eric Swalwell, the young California congressman who endorsed O’Malley last week mingled around in the background, tieless and sporting his House of Representatives lapel pin.
When O’Malley took the stage he belted out a loud, succinct version of his stump speech followed by a request that the gathered young professionals follow up their donations with a commitment to take a month off in January to come to Iowa and support his caucus operations.
After the speech, he waded into the crowd, taking dozens of questions, more selfies, and exchanging still more handshakes. That’s when three undergraduates who had traveled from the University Of Maryland to take him on made their move.
Colin Byrd, an activist at the university, pulled out his video camera and recorded several questions with O’Malley. Several were detailed questions about the Sandra Bland case, he told a reporter later. He plans to post the video to YouTube soon.
Asked how O’Malley did with the questions about the Bland case, Byrd shook his head, unimpressed.
Joshua Tyler Stanley, 21, a member of College Students For Bernie, was the Sanders volunteer in the crowd. Like Byrd, purchased $50 tickets for the event and wore a nametag as he mingled with the pro-O’Malley crowd. He said he was there to ask O’Malley detailed questions about the environment. A friend and fellow UMD student, Ori Gutin, and deciding between O’Malley and Sanders, actually asked O’Malley the question, a query about liquified natural gas.
The trio of protesters argued about how well O’Malley had answered that one.
O’Malley took the questions, as he takes most questions. He stood in Baby Wale for more than an hour, shaking hands, talking to everyone who wanted to talk to him. A senior O’Malley staffer cut off Byrd’s ambush interview, promising to provide the activist time with the former Maryland governor at some point when the candidate wasn’t actively shaking hands. Afterwards the aide told a reporter it was serious offer.
Neither Byrd’s move, nor Gutin’s, phased the candidate or the campaign staff. In his brief stump speech, O’Malley highlighted his environmental proposals that have already drawn praise from activists, the college plan that mirrors the one pushed by liberal groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and promised to be the the first Democratic candidate to offer a comprehensive “justice agenda for the U.S.,” a move aimed at distancing him from his tough-on-crime past and getting things right with #BlackLivesMatter activists, who are still upset with O’Malley after his performance at Netroots.
O’Malley’s team expect to take a lot more questions as things go on. They say their candidate can talk his way out of the skepticism and criticism looming over his candidacy like a stormcloud.
On Tuesday, at a crowded bar in D.C., it was clear some of those problems still haven’t gone away, even as O’Malley continues to talk, talk and talk some more about them.
Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.
Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at email@example.com.
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