Why some donors are giving to dark horse Martin O'Malley

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Politics,Hillary Clinton,Campaign Finance,Campaigns,PennAve,Rebecca Berg,Martin OMalley

As it turns out, not everyone is ready for Hillary.

Though former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic frontrunner, leads by as much as 50 percent in some polls, there is some evidence that some former supporters are looking with interest at Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

As many Democrats might have expected, O’Malley has attracted respectable support from within Maryland, as well as from some prominent former Obama supporters, such as the bundler Stewart Bainum.

But, more surprisingly, O’Malley’s early base of support also overlaps somewhat with Clinton’s network, even as she appears as poised as ever to run for president and swamp him in the race, at least at the outset.

There are several reasons why potential donors or aides might eschew supporting Clinton for O’Malley, at least for now.

On the staffing side, there is a sense among some young, up-and-coming Democratic operatives that the waiting list for a potential Clinton presidential campaign is already closed — but not so with a fresh candidate like O’Malley, whose campaign could be a prime launching pad for new political talent.

One senior position on O’Malley’s political team has already been scooped up by a Clinton alum. Adam Goers, who served as Clinton’s midwest finance director during her bid for president, is the executive director at O’Malley’s federal political action committee, O’ Say Can You See PAC, known colloquially as “O’PAC.”

A similar story is being told in donations to the PAC, which brought in nearly $800,000 during the most recent fundraising quarter. Already, two former Clinton bundlers — so-called “Hillraisers” from the 2008 campaign — have stepped up to contribute thousands of dollars to O’Malley: Lainy Lebow-Sachs of Maryland and C. Thomas McMillen of Washington.

The donations don’t necessarily reflect dissatisfaction with Clinton.

Paul DiNino served as the Democratic National Committee’s national finance director under President Clinton, and he supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 — but he’s steering potential donors to O’Malley, making the case that it is a wise investment. Because O’Malley does not possess a vast donor network on par with Clinton’s, each big-money donor could wield that much more influence within O’Malley’s campaign, should it take flight.

DiNino, who lives in Maryland but has deep ties to Iowa politics, has also stressed O’Malley’s role as a party surrogate during the 2014 midterm elections. The Maryland governor has, unlike Clinton, been crisscrossing the country to campaign for Democrats — in early presidential primary states, of course, but in others as well.

“Right now, it's Martin O’Malley, and it's only Martin O’Malley,” DiNino said. “He’s filling a giant void for Democrats.”

A spokesperson for the pro-Clinton group Ready For Hillary told the Washington Examiner earlier this year that the group would “look to amplify the efforts that Hillary engages in for the midterms.” But those efforts, if they develop, likely won’t come to fruition until late in the fall.

In the meantime, O’Malley is one of the few Democrats making all the overtures characteristic of a would-be presidential candidate, including frequent, publicized trips to early primary states.

He has traveled on multiple occasions to Iowa, including last week, when O’Malley, the former chair of the Democratic Governors Association, campaigned with the state’s Democratic nominee for governor, Jack Hatch.

O’Malley has also traveled twice to New Hampshire to raise money for Gov. Maggie Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, campaigned in South Carolina in May for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen, and even made a trip in May to Nevada, another early primary state.

O’Malley has not yet decided, officially and publicly, to run for president, although he has been candid about seriously considering that avenue. There is also a sense, however, fortified by hints from O’Malley’s allies, that he might not follow through with a campaign should Clinton run for president.

O’Malley, after all, does not have an adversarial history personally or on policy with the Clintons. In fact, he was a bundler for Clinton during her 2008 campaign. O’Malley, 51, is also young enough to wait to run for president later should he decide the opportunity is not ripe this time.

“He's not going anywhere,” DiNino said. “He has a long political career ahead of him.”

And at least as long as Clinton publicly hems and haws about whether she will run for president, O’Malley will welcome some of her allies into his fold in support of that career, wherever it might lead.

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Rebecca Berg

Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner

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