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Sun Jan 31, 2016, 06:42 PM

Defiant Martin O'Malley insists he won't play Iowa kingmaker.

'Martin O’Malley may get soundly defeated by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders here on Monday, but he won’t be a pawn in their game.

O’Malley, a chipper long-shot who has been driving his own car when his volunteers get too groggy, is rejecting his role as an Iowa caucus kingmaker— telling his supporters here they don’t have to vote for either Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders if he’s excluded from the final round of voting Monday night.

The former Maryland governor — in distant third place with between three and five percent of the vote her, according to recent polls — could, under quirky caucus rules, decide a too-close-to-call contest between Clinton and Sanders if he instructs his precinct captains to throw his support to either one of them.

But he won’t — unlike previous caucus also-rans.

“The people who have stuck with me, the friends that I have… I think they are pretty resolute in their support for me,” he said during POLITICO’s “Off Message” podcast, which will be released Monday morning.

When I asked him if he was encouraging his backers to stick with him for the duration of the caucus, he said, “Yes,” adding, “My message to them is to hold strong.”

O’Malley needs to reach a 15 percent threshold of support in most precincts needed to make it to the second round of caucus voting — and he is likely to fall short in most of the state’s 1,600 caucus sites.

But O’Malley, tired but defiant as he paused between events on Sunday, said “many” of his backers have told him, “I’m caucusing for you and if we are not viable, I’m going home… This is a democratic process, people make their own free choices, but it’s my sense… there’s not a whole lot of enthusiasm going into the second [round] for the other two.”

Both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns have been waging a quiet guerrilla war to woo O’Malley voters — and the Clinton campaign has gone so far to issues a smartphone app to field organizers who are hunting for potential O’Malley defectors, according to a report from BuzzFeed News.

O’Malley conceded that Clinton and Sanders would pick up some of his supporters, but he said that he was likely to poach more than a few Clintonites at college campus caucus sites where he and Sanders were the most popular candidates.

“It’s very possible that on college campuses we actually outperform Secretary Clinton and are neck and neck with Sanders.”

In the weeks leading up the caucus, most pollsters and analysts predicted that O’Malley’s voters — reflecting any anybody-but-Hillary mood on the party’s left — would jump en masse to Sanders. But Saturday’s Des Moines Register/Bloomberg showed both candidates deadlocked at around 25 percent among O’Malley voters who would vote in an O’Malley-less second round.'


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