While the media and political pundits have all but anointed Hillary Clinton as the inevitable nominee of the party for 2016, there are two other people who I think would be much better candidates. Both of them have made moves that suggest that they will seek the nomination though neither has formally announced it. But then, neither has Clinton.
One is Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont. He is unabashed about calling himself a democratic socialist, which is a good thing. Sanders may not be a household name to the general public but is well known in national political circles because he has been in the US Congress since 1991 and in the Senate since 2007.
The other good candidate is Martin O’Malley, who has just completed his second term as governor of Maryland. His is not as familiar a name as Sanders but he too has a good record on many issues and is a good campaigner, as this profile by Ben Jacobs indicates.
O’Malley used that 1990 race for the Maryland state Senate as a jumping-off point. A year later, he won election to Baltimore’s city council. Then, in 1999, frustrated with the city council, O’Malley launched an underdog race for mayor of Baltimore. He got in the race with only three months to go before the Democratic primary as a white man running in a predominantly African American city. O’Malley ended up receiving a majority of the vote in the primary (tantamount to election in deep-blue Baltimore). He had a successful tenure as mayor – using his obsession with data to help bring crime down significantly in Baltimore – before running for governor of Maryland against incumbent Republican Bob Ehrlich, whom he defeated in 2006.
In his eight years as governor (O’Malley beat Ehrlich again in 2010), he achieved an impressive progressive policy record even by the standards of a liberal state like Maryland. During his tenure, extensive environmental legislation passed to protect the Chesapeake Bay, gay marriage was legalized, the minimum wage was raised, the death penalty was abolished and undocumented immigrants were allowed to receive driver’s licenses. However, there were a number of setbacks too. Maryland’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act was an expensive disaster and O’Malley’s hand-picked successor, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, suffered a surprising loss in the 2014 general election – based partially on discontent over O’Malley’s tax increases. This meant that for all of O’Malley’s resume of success, he left office looking politically weak.
O’Malley has been quietly setting up a campaign organization and doing the kinds of things that US politicians must do but he has carefully avoided taking any shots at Clinton, leading to speculation that he does not want to eliminate the possibility of being her vice-presidential running mate if she does get the nomination.
My daughter worked as a budget analyst for the Maryland state government while O’Malley was governor and thought that he had a good approach to governing, adopting an empirical and data-based approach to decision making while pushing a fairly progressive agenda. He also seemed to know how to deal with people.
But neither Sanders nor O’Malley may be able to stop the Clinton juggernaut if the media continue to treat her as if she were the only reasonable candidate. Their only chance may be if her campaign self-destructs.