Martin O'Malley Just Took His Populist Pitch Full-Throttle

Democratic presidential candidate takes on big money, swipes at Hillary Clinton.

— -- The Democratic Party’s newest candidate on the block, Martin O’Malley, took his Wall Street offensive full-throttle Wednesday, attempting to capitalize on signs that questions about the Clintons’ personal earnings and the dealings of their foundation could mean a fall from grace for presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.

In his first public engagement as a presidential candidate, the former Maryland governor joined the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., for 45 minutes of questions and answers with the chamber president and CEO Javier Palomarez. O’Malley then took a handful of questions from reporters who had been pre-selected on a first-come basis.

O’Malley launched his populist appeal right out the gate, answering Palomarez’s first question asking him to describe who he is and why he should be president after a recent CBS News poll found 72 percent of Democrats don’t know him well enough to decide whether they’d support his bid for president.

“I am one of six kids born to Tom and Barbara O’Malley who are two Americans born into The Depression,” O’Malley said.

He added that his father was only able to afford college thanks to the G.I. Bill, and “the generous country that understood that the stronger we made our citizens, the more we made it possible for more families to send their kids to college, the stronger we would be as a nation.”

Citing chatter that O’Malley, 52, has shown reluctance to take on Clinton directly, Palomarez asked, “So the question is, and no pun intended here governor, are you, as they say, ‘Ready for Hillary’?”

O’Malley remained steadfast in painting himself as a candidate of the people looking to save the American Dream, which he said “is in deep trouble.”

“Other candidates in this race have come to the conclusion that they have that combination of experience and vision to be able to do this and so now the way it works is now that we’ve made up our minds, now the public gets to decide, and that’s the way it’s supposed to work,” he said, striking Clinton.

While answering a questions about whether he’d accept contributions from big businesses to his campaign, O’Malley said, “I understand I’ve been named public enemy number one by Goldman-Sachs, so while I’m three days a presidential candidate, I am one day a public enemy of Goldman-Sachs.”

O’Malley, also a former mayor of Baltimore, hit populist high notes as he charted the history of America’s workers and wage from its high-functioning peaks during the New Deal, citing a sea change 30 years ago that brought the U.S. economy to the perilous state it’s in today.

“We need to realize that our economy is not money, our economy is people, and we need to put wage policies at the center,” he said.

He later added, “No state and no city is an island, we need to get our national economy functioning again by getting wages to start rising instead of declining.”

Even in response to questions unrelated to America’s economic climate or Clinton herself, O’Malley seemed to work income inequality and the importance of taking down big money giants into many of his answers.

When faced with a damning statement from the Maryland ACLU that named his legacy as governor, specifically his “zero tolerance” policing strategy, as a culprit in creating high tension and distrust between the citizens and police in Baltimore, O’Malley cited his record of cutting the crime rate and number of police-involved shootings “to the lowest level I think in modern times,” but ultimately brought his message back to income inequality.

“These policing incidents are the spark, but the rage that erupted in Baltimore that night was not only about policing, and not only about race – it was about the fact that our economy is leaving huge portions of our population behind,” he said in reference to the April rioting after the funeral of Freddie Gray, the man who died in police custody.

Of course, the populist message isn’t unique to O’Malley. Also playing on the Democratic primary field is Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who solidified his reputation as a fierce critic committed to taking down Wall Street fat cats far before he set his sights on the White House.

And with the effort to draft perhaps big business’ greatest watchdog in government, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to run for office officially coming to an end this week, it seems O’Malley may be sensing it’s his time to distinguish himself on one of the issues that matter to the party most – and that happens to be an area of weakness for his main opponent, Clinton.