Martin O’Malley’s Messaging Challenges

omalleyMartin O’Malley.

OK. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight Twitter account was very quick on Saturday, right after Mr. O’Malley announced that he is going to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, to point out that Mr. O’Malley has “essentially zero support” from Democratic office-holders and has just two percent support in Iowa, New Hampshire and national primary polls – far worse than Barack Obama eight years ago.

Long shot, right? Absolutely.

Numbers are numbers. But, on the word side, Mr. O’Malley’s entrance into the race could be more interesting than we think – if only for the messaging challenges the former Maryland governor faces. Setting aside the polling numbers for a moment, let’s look at what Mr. O’Malley’s record actually provides in terms of potential “marketable” messages.

His two terms as governor of Maryland included several achievements that he will repeatedly articulate as he attempts to position himself to the left of Mrs. Clinton. On the campaign trail, he will talk about a “sensible rebalancing” of wealth and he will tell us that he:

  • supported legalizing same-sex marriages
  • came out in favor of tough gun restrictions
  • eliminated the death penalty
  • raised the minimum wage
  • backed tax increases

Clearly, Mr. O’Malley wants and needs to position himself to the left of Mrs. Clinton and – in a vacuum – strong talking points based on these accomplishments would do just that. Unfortunately for him, Mrs. Clinton has been saying many similar or close-to-similar statements — the system punishes the middle class; immigration changes should be even broader; minimum wages need to be raised, etc.

And let’s not forget that Bernie Sanders, the independent Senator from Vermont who also will be in the Democratic primaries, is more of a natural fit at that end of the political spectrum. So Mr. O’Malley may find that his Maryland accomplishments – his liberal pedigree, really – do not really differentiate him in any meaningful way.

He likely will have more success with strong messages driving home his opposition to a pending Pacific Rim trade deal and the Keystone XL pipeline and his support for expanding Social Security benefits. Mrs. Clinton has been tap-dancing on and/or avoiding these issues, and they remain open as meaningful talking point for Mr. O’Malley.

While his specific issue-by-issue messaging probably still needs to be refined, Mr. O’Malley’s messaging strategy – from a macro point of view – already is clear.

“The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth … between two royal families,” he said in his announcement speech Saturday, a statement designed to simultaneously knock both Mrs. Clinton and Jeb Bush. But even this talking point raises some questions as Mr. O’Malley of course was the second sitting governor two elections ago to endorse Mrs. Clinton of then-Sen. Barack Obama. “She is ready today,” Mr. O’Malley said at an event in Annapolis. “She is ready to lead.”

The candidate was reminded of his endorsement in late March in a Sunday morning television appearance. He responded — cleverly, perhaps — that Mrs. Clinton was the best prepared candidate “for those times,” but then quickly: “I think our country always benefits from new leadership and perspective.”

Generation Forward, the super PAC created by Damian O’Doherty, a long-time O’Malley backer, also is emphasizing age – Mr. O’Malley is 52, Mrs. Clinton is 67 and Mr. Sanders is 73.

“We believe that Governor O’Malley is the best candidate to appeal to younger generations and the issues they care about,” said Ron Boehmer, a spokesman for the super PAC and Mr. O’Malley’s spokesman when he was in the Maryland statehouse.

Adding that Mr. O’Malley represents “new leadership” and “new ideas,” Mr. Boehmer says the governor’s record on same-sex marriage and education costs are important examples of how he will appeal to younger Americans. Mr. O’Malley, himself, has referenced a need for a “new generation.”

Mrs. Clinton was quick to respond to Mr. O’Malley’s announcement on Saturday, and her Twitter account said, “Welcome to the race, Gov. O’Malley. Looking forward to discussing strong families and communities. -H.”

Clearly, she gets an A for her quick response, but the inclusion of “strong families” in her response – from a messaging standpoint – probably is wording that she will want to stay away from as the primary season (and even the general election) roll out.


Chapter 11: Global Aviation’s Second Visit This Year


There’s a good chance the Chapter 11 filing by Global Aviation Holdings Inc., on Nov. 11, 2013, went unnoticed by most people.  Probably the same amount of attention that its emergence from bankruptcy protection caused this past February.

That’s right – February 2013.

But the company becoming a serial filer isn’t the only thing interesting about the filing by Global, which provides military, cargo, passenger and commercial charter air transportation services through two airlines — World Airways, Inc. and North American Airlines, Inc.  First of all, the Peachtree City, Ga., company provided charter services for the presidential campaigns of President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.  And, oh yes, the company even flew the Minnesota Vikings to London to play a National Football League game.

For these, and other reasons apparently not linked to its double-dip into Chapter 11, the documents accompanying its bankruptcy filing provide some interesting history – not to mention messaging.

For instance, consider the declaration filed by William A. Garrett, executive vice president and chief financial officer.  “Global Aviation has come to be known as the gold standard in providing safe and high-quality service to the United States military,” Garrett says. He also states that the company has developed a reputation for safe and reliable commercial cargo and passenger services, which it provides to a broad customer base that includes major corporations, domestic and international airlines, logistics companies, presidential campaigns, sports teams, entertainers and production companies.

From a messaging standpoint, of course, this is standard boilerplate stuff that a company would use in good times or bad.  It may be a legal document, but this is PR messaging.

Deeper reading into Garrett’s declaration goes beyond the bumper-sticker descriptions, however.  He notes that Global emerged from its previous visit to Chapter 11 with a go-forward operating strategy where future success would continue reliant on the needs of the military and certain key commercial cargo customers.  With good reason: Global’s World unit operates large, wide-body freighter planes.  And they need to be filled to the top for the company to succeed.

Unfortunately for the company, and what it apparently didn’t see when building that go-forward plan, was that the government would cut back on its demand for World’s services.  On Sept. 30, 2013, the U.S. military apparently surprised the company and others when it announced that significant additional cutbacks would be coming on Dec. 1, 2013.

Oops.  Guess that go-forward strategy forgot the part about broadening out the customer base so the company wouldn’t be so dependent upon a single sector.

Election Day 2013: Messages, Messages and More Messages



Another election day.  Another day of winners, losers and pundits driving home carefully rehearsed and thought-out messages.  Some were positive and others were negative.  Some were subtle and others were overt.

But they all had a purpose.  Well, most of them anyway.

And then there was Toronto, where there was no election — but more on that later.

In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a landslide winner in his reelection campaign, was anything but subtle to speaking to his supporters after his never-in-doubt victory was confirmed.

“If we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey, maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now and see how it’s done,” he said to a roaring crowd – all of whom understood what he was implying.

Another statement had an interesting dual-meaning message.  “I did not seek a second term to do small things,” the governor said.  “I sought a second term to finish the job – now watch me do it.”

Earlier in the day, while appearing on CNN, Christie carefully burnished his GOP credentials, ensuring that he didn’t move too far away from the Republican right, but also making room for moderates and other who might be fed up with government’s recent behavior.  “I’m a conservative,” he stated.  “The difference has been I haven’t tried to hide it, or mask it as something different.”

Moving south from New Jersey to Virginia, the Republicans lost an opportunity to hold onto the statehouse when state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s strident hard-right approach drove females to the voting booth to support Terry McAuliffe, a less-than-powerhouse candidate who nevertheless had a huge lead heading into election day.

Interestingly, however, the Obamacare website fallout gave Cuccinelli a last-minute reprieve, which caused him to move to a new message (“If you want to send a message to Washington and vote no on Obamacare, I need your vote”).  To his credit, the messaging change nearly did the impossible, and narrowed McAulilffe’s ultimate victory to a sliver.

In Houston, Annisse Parker, the first openly gay politician elected mayor of a major U.S. city, won her third two-year term.  Realizing that simple messaging often works best, she told a news conference why she won: “If the city weren’t doing so well, I would not be standing here tonight.”  Importantly, even while sounding humble, her message enabled the mayor to put the economic gains in her win column and probably strengthens her hand for planned third-term initiatives.

In New York City, meanwhile, it was very clear that the past 20 years of conservatism under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg are coming to a sudden end.  Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who made it very clear through the campaign that he would stop the police department’s controversial stop-and frisk campaign, won a resounding victory.  His message: “Make no mistake, the people of this city have chosen a progressive path.”

Finally, although there weren’t any elections in Toronto this week, there are a lot of people who probably wish one had been scheduled.  We did have some unique messaging nevertheless.  Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finally admitted that he had smoked crack cocaine, adding that it occurred “in one of my drunken stupors.”

Equally interesting was his comment associated with the fact he wants to get the video from the police so he determine what exactly took place.

“I want to see what state I was in,” he said.

Well, actually, mayor, your message is a bit off.  It wasn’t a state.  It was a province.