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Tue Jan 5, 2016, 10:04 PM

O'Malley in SL: counting on Iowa to spring caucus upset.

'The former governor of Maryland glanced wistfully at the guitar laying on a table, left there by a barista at the coffee shop, seeming to wish he could strum instead of deliver his third campaign speech of a long weekend swing across Iowa.
And he would play, but first things first. "Everyone wants to hear the governor sing - once," he joked after spotting the instrument, finding his rhythm in campaign mode instead.

Martin O'Malley, a distant third in the race for the Democratic nomination, urged a crowd of about 40 at Better Day Cafe in Storm Lake Saturday night to do what Iowa has a reputation of doing - ignore the polls and the big campaign money and raise up a new leader.

His message focused on better-paying jobs, eliminating college debt, improving bipartisanship, and providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Buena Vista County is the 66th O'Malley has visited, as he tries to hit all 99 before the Iowa Caucus. His local appearance was in sharp contract to those of the more hyped candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump - no security, large entourage, rock-song introduction or parade of TV cameras in his wake.

Among those curious to hear what the Democrat has to say was Trish Moe. "He was like a breath of fresh air," she reflected afterward. "His thoughts on immigration were impressive to me. We need these people," she said.

Another man reflected that while Hillary Clinton has her rabid detractors, "I don't think anyone could hate O'Malley."

Indeed, O'Malley was affable, trim and energetic, kitted out appropriately for a weekend speech in unfaded jeans and a neatly pressed blue button-down oxford, hitting all his cues in rapid-fire order. Though his campaign staff was urging him to depart after his message with another event, he lingered, spending time talking with members of the crowd, and signing the back of the guitar for its owner.

With a grin he reported that along with his home state, Iowa and New Hampshire are first in his heart. They are also the first states to speak in the election process, and the states he counts on to make him viable. The most recent Loras Poll gives him about 4 percent of the party support in Iowa, compared to Hillary Clinton with nearly 60 percent and Bernie Sanders with just over 27 percent.

O'Malley said he was not in Iowa to praise residents, but to challenge them to lift up a new leader as it had done with Barack Obama.

"They will not find that new leader in the Republican Party - or at least I hope they don't," he said.

O'Malley briefly praised the president for reigning in spending and achieving 69 months in a row of job growth, but noted that 70 percent of working people make the same or less money than they did a dozen years ago.

"It's not how the economy is supposed to work, or how the country is supposed to work," he said.

He is the son of parents who were both born into the Great Depression. With four children, he noted that he stands before the crowd as undoubtedly the most burdened candidate in college debt. The U.S. in the only country that cripples its young people with such debt, he said. Later in the night, he promised debt-free higher education within five years.

O'Malley told the crowd he had not decided to run for mayor of Baltimore because all was well, but because the economy was a mess and crime was high. The attitude was "last person out, turn out the lights," he said. The candidate is counting on his record as governor to convince voters - Maryland during his tenure raised minimum wage, passed marriage equality, ended the death penalty, passed a DREAM Act for young immigrants, decreased incarceration rate and earned a top ranking for schools.

"Unlike Branstad who cut funding for education," he said, referring to Iowa's governor, "we increased funding to schools."

Fixing the economy begins with common sense wages, he suggests, proposing to set a minimum wage that never falls below poverty level (he has previously suggested a $15 minimum), and forcing employers to pay overtime to their employees who work extra hours. He said his proposals would expand Social Security when others would cut benefits. (O'Malley supports lifting the cap on the payroll tax for workers earning more than $250,000 to help fund Social Security.)

He also said that the U.S. has to bring 11 million "of our neighbors" out of the shadows, with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Later in the evening, a student in the crowd would ask about the DREAM Act, giving protection to teenage and young adult immigrants who were brought into the country as young children. The student said he knows others in his school who fall into that category.

O'Malley said he keeps a sign on his desk from a past generation, reading, "Help wanted - no Irish need apply" to remind him that all Americans come from immigration. He said he would extend DACA and DAPA programs and rescind restrictions on health care for persons on those programs, end the "shameful" policy of for-profit prisons, and provide due process at the border for those seeking asylum. While the DREAM Act would protect children, the parents would still be subject to deportation without a path to citizenship, he noted.

He spoke of meeting an undocumented family in Austin, Texas. The daughter said she lived in fear that she would return home from school one day to find her family gone. Ultimately, comprehensive immigration has to be achieved in Congress to "tap into the great strength" that immigrants represent to the country, according to O'Malley.

In the face of terrorism, he said the country cannot lose its compassion. He blamed Republicans for scapegoating American Muslims, and particularly opened fire on Donald Trump for what O'Malley says is a "more and more fascist and racist appeal" to boost his polling numbers.

"This campaign is a fight for the soul of the United States," he told the crowd. "Do we want our national symbol to be barbed wire and fences, or the Statue of Liberty?"

Asked about ISIS, O'Malley calls for a coalition with other nations for Middle East security, but said that the countries of the region should play the lead role. He compared ISIS to confronting a drug gang, and suggested the U.S. has only begun to scratch the surface in piecing together intelligence.

"Democracies can be very vulnerable to turning on themselves when attacked," he said, suggesting the conflict with ISIS is no reason for discriminating against Muslims or slamming the door on Syrian refugees.

Asked about pulling Congress out of gridlock, O'Malley jabbed his fellow Democrat candidates, saying he is the only one of the three who has a track record of bringing people together.

He said that as governor, 65 percent of his initiatives passed with support from a majority of Republicans in one house or the other. He initiated "Bipartisan Pizza Nights" to bring legislators of the two parties together.

At one point, a staff member questioned why he had invited a Republican who always vote against O'Malley's wishes. He joked that he'd responded, "Joe - it's only pepperoni."

"There is no easy button, no way to pole vault through," he added. "Republicans are not our enemy."

On health care, O'Malley said he had been cut off on his response to the issues in each of the past two televised debates. He proposes to retain and build on the Affordable Care Act from the Obama administration. He blamed hospitals as the prime cause for inflated costs, and stressed more attention to preventative health efforts. He pumped ethanol and alternative fuel sources, promoted opportunities for veterans who in some cases are being left to become "ghost people," and said he is confident he can balance budgets, blaming the current debt on "15 years of war."

Finding a stool and that guitar, he wrapped the evening with an unabashedly curry-favoring folk tune he called, "The Iowa Waltz," which seemed to energize him at even this late stage of the day, urging those singing along, "now with feeling!"'


NOTE THIS: 'He said that as governor, 65 percent of his initiatives passed with support from a majority of Republicans in one house or the other. He initiated "Bipartisan Pizza Nights" to bring legislators of the two parties together.'

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