O’Malley’s New Challenge

I guess we might as well get all of the week’s unusually large batch of 2016 punditry out of the way before lunch, and before tonight’s DACA announcement and the reaction to it blots out the sun and fills the sky with angry crows.

I’ve noticed a couple of new pieces about Martin O’Malley’s plans. Neither improves on the profile of the Maryland governor written by Haley Edwards for the Washington Monthly last year, though Molly Ball at the Atlantic offers some observations on O’Malley’s persistence in the face of very high odds and considerable media indifference, and Alex Seitz-Wald of MSNBC reports on his hiring of policy staff, an important step towards a presidential campaign.

Neither piece, however, mentions the most important new problem O’Malley must confront in establishing his “viability,” and by that I don’t mean Jim Webb’s exploratory committee. No, it’s the chatter in elite circles about O’Malley’s alleged responsibility for the November 4 catastrophe that struck his designated successor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, in what was probably the biggest upset of the cycle.

There are multiple explanations for Brown’s loss that don’t directly involve the incumbent govenror: really bad Democratic turnout, a really bad Brown campaign, Brown’s responsibility for a botched rollout of Maryland’s Obamacare state insurance exchange, and even the “Bradley Effect” (the idea, thought to have been retired by Barack Obama, that voters ashamed of looking racist routinely over-report support to pollsters for African-American candidates). But as noted here on November 6, there’s also plenty of talk about the so-called “rain tax” (see this excellent explanation from Brentin Mock at Grist), a stormwater abatement fee all homeowners in the state had to pay. TNR’s Alec MacGillisexplained why it could be dangerous for Martin O’Malley, after conducting his own focus group at a Maryland polling place:

[E]veryone I spoke with cited it [the “rain tax”] as the crowning example of the nickel-and-diming taxing regime under O’Malley that also includes the $60-per-year “flush tax” to upgrade sewage treatment plants and higher taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, and gas. “The rain tax was the last straw,” said Mike Eline, 64, who does pest control at the University of Maryland campus in Baltimore. “How many taxes can there possibly be?” “It seems any reason they can, they say, ‘let’s tax the people,’” said Daniel, a 63-year-old African-American warehouse worker. “What really upsets me is the rain tax. Rain is something natural that’s just given to us. Nobody has to work for it. But they say, ‘let’s tax it.’”

Now this can all sound like real inside baseball to non-Marylanders, and particularly to the Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic activists who will likely be the real judges and jury for O’Malley’s presidential ambitions. But among the national party elites and media types who play an important role in the “invisible primary,” it’s an issue O’Malley will have to deal with again and again unless he finds an efficient way to spike it, at a time when he needs good press and a lot of it. It will be interesting to see how he handles it.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.