ROCK HILL, South Carolina - Martin O'Malley finally found his stride Friday night as he fielded questions during the First in the South Democratic Presidential forum moderated by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.
The former Maryland governor has struggled to gain traction in the race, despite a strong resume, and been stuck in the low single digits in polls, but he shined in the format of a one-on-one interview. He deftly addressed some of his biggest vulnerabilities on racial unrest in Baltimore and the loss of his hand-picked successor for the governorship in 2014.
And he took some shots at his Democratic rivals, frontrunner Hillary Clinton and challenger Bernie Sanders. "I'm a Democrat. I'm not a former independent, I'm not a former Republican," he said, knocking both Sanders, the lifelong independent who only Thursday officially declared that he is a Democrat, and Clinton, a former Republican "Goldwater Girl" in her teenage years.
O'Malley added that while he was "proud" when President Obama got elected, "Senator Sanders was trying to find someone to primary him" in his 2012 reelection bid.
And O'Malley dinged Clinton for coming to her opposition to the Keystone XL popeline later than him, saying she got there "just last week."
O'Malley also found time to throw red meat to the crowd. "The reason we have the debt is because George Bush led us into war and didn't ask us to pay for it along the way," he said to applause.
On his low poll numbers, he remarked, "I kind of like a tough fight." And when it came time for lighter questions, O'Malley was game - and even acknowledged the he owns a kilt, but said it was a gift.
The long shot candidate has a very long way to climb, and may not succeed in future events with different formats, like next week's Democratic debate. But tonight was bright spot in a campaign that has otherwise been fairly bleak.