Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has formally launched his presidential campaign Saturday at a morning rally in Baltimore. The Democratic candidate's motto is "new leadership," which can be meant to draw a contrast with Hillary Clinton whose is a decade and a half older than O'Malley and whose husband served two terms as president.
With the backdrop of a divided city based on race and class behind him, O'Malley jumpstarted his campaign on the theme of inclusion.
"This is the urgent work calling us forward today: to rebuild the truth of the American Dream for all Americans. And to begin right now," O'Malley said.
As president, he vowed comprehensive immigration reform, to reign in Wall Street, to tackle climate change, to allow for union organization, and increasing the minimum wage.
The former governor's term ended in January and has been planning for a presidential run since before then, making frequent trips to Iowa and New Hampshire as well as a few visits to South Carolina – early primary states.
But O'Malley has faced some early problems even before his launch — a fact that was symbolized at his announcement when technical difficulties prevented a video on a big screen from being viewable.
O’Malley has struggled to register in the polls, achieving only single digits in most surveys, is positioning himself to the left of frontrunner Hillary Clinton. But his being challenged in that space by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, who recently announced his White House run.
The former governor didn't spare Clinton from his announcement.
"The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families," he said, knocking not only Clinton but likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush. "The only way we are going to rebuild the American Dream is if we re-take control of our own American government."
O’Malley announced in Baltimore — where he was elected mayor twice — a city that has experienced racial strife after 25-year old African American Freddie Gray's spine was severed spine and later died in police custody. In the aftermath of protests, the city experienced its deadliest month in decades as murders have reached nearly 40 in May.
As Baltimore came into the spotlight after Gray’s death, O’Malley’s record came under fire by some who say his no-tolerance policies toward crime were extreme. While his policies dramatically reduced crime but also escalated the number of arrests, which some say were unnecessary and violated people’s rights.
O'Malley addressed the protests that at times turned violent, saying that they are symptomatic of a deeper problem.
"For what took place here was not only about race - not only about policing in America. It’s about everything it is supposed to mean to be an American," he said. "Conditions of extreme and growing poverty, create conditions for extreme violence. We have work to do. Our economic and political system is upside down and backwards and it is time to turn it around."
In the height of the Baltimore protests, O'Malley returned prematurely from a speaking engagement overseas to tend to the struggling city. He was met with mixed reviews as some welcomed him hope while others blamed him for the policies he implemented during his mayorship for the heavy-handed police tactics that allegedly led to Gray's death.
During his time as governor implemented a liberal agenda. He oversaw the legalization of same-sex marriage, enabled undocumented immigrants to receive drivers’ license and attend college paying in-state prices, decriminalized pot and overturned the death penalty.
At least one liberal group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is working to move Clinton to the left on their economic priorities such as debt-free college and expanding Medicare, welcomed O'Malley into the race. While they didn't endorse him they said will put significant pressure on Clinton to adopt progressive police.
"Martin O'Malley's entrance into the race will be one more factor that incentivizes a race to the top on economic populism issues. He has already taken strong stands in favor of debt-free college, expanding Social Security benefits, and Wall Street reform — and the more Democrats compete to be the biggest hero on popular issues like these, the better it will be for Democrats and for America," Adam Green, co-founder of the organization, said.
O’Malley, who plays in a Celtic Rock band and has been known to wear sleeveless shirts while strumming his guitar, previewed Saturday’s announcement with a 23-second video playing “Hail to the Chief” on his guitar.