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C. Fraser Smith: O’Malley’s stuck in more than traffic

Maryland’s favorite son presidential contender ran into a buzz saw last week on WAMU radio in Washington.

Scheduled for a noontime on-air interview, Martin O’Malley got stuck in traffic, made worse he said by an accident.

The host, Diane Rehm, was not inclined to accept “traffic” as an excuse.

“I must say I’m somewhat surprised that you could not make it here on time as you promised to,” she said.

O’Malley tried to make light of it.

“Diane,” he said, “you can’t accept every promise a politician makes.”

“I’m disappointed,” she said, “because it’s a national interview on NPR and I do expect guests to live up to their promises.”

She had a point, of course. O’Malley’s barely registering in the national polls. Why wouldn’t he have made every effort to be on time?

O’Malley said he was “following all the rules of the road” as he drove toward the station. He got no slack from that, either.

When he did arrive, O’Malley gave a strong, workmanlike account of himself as a candidate. Not surprisingly, his answers seemed perhaps overly rehearsed, but what would you expect from a candidate in from the stump in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two early primary states?

At the end of the show, Rehm asked: “Where’s your money going to come from to really compete?”

O’Malley: “From listeners like you.”

And then he said, maybe going for a laugh once again:

“Did that work? Are they calling?”

“I doubt it,” said Rehm.

The media beat-down continued in Baltimore.

WYPR host Dan Rodricks and The Sun’s media critic, David Zurawik, picked up where Rehm left off.

O’Malley, they said, hadn’t learned to modulate his performance. He didn‘t seem to get the fact that each venue, each opportunity demands a different way of speaking. You don’t make a speech on late-night shows, for example.

Probably a difficult distinction for a candidate who struggles for name recognition and for some appreciation of his qualifications. He has to see everything as an opportunity to introduce himself and his ideas.

How to break out?

It’s not a new problem and not a problem for him alone. Take what has been referred to as the “Republican clown car,” the 11-plus candidates looking for ways to distinguish themselves from their opponents.

One might imagine conversations between advisers and candidates, for instance, over how to condense remarks so as to leave the most important impression with TV listeners.

What’s going to play well? What’s the personal characteristic they most want voters to see?

Jeb Bush, once seen as the likely GOP candidate against Hillary Clinton, did a good job of this Wednesday night.

Accused by Donald Trump of selling out to big-money interests, Bush said one of those interests had been Trump, himself. Trump wanted to build casinos in Florida.

Trump tried to win Bush’s support, according to Bush.

Absolutely wrong, Trump said. If he’d wanted Florida he’d have had it, he said with his usual bluster.

Of course you wanted Florida, said Bush. He seemed the more believable. And the next-in-line of the Bushes scored well with the media scorekeepers.

A Vegas turnaround?

Speaking of debates, O’Malley told Rehm he expects to have his turn at a debate rostrum. She seemed to think he was dreaming – as if he had made no real case for himself — if you take standing in the polls as the appropriate indicator.

Let’s hope our former governor is right. He deserves to be there. And if the Democratic voter is to have the fullest possible look at the candidates he has to be there.

The first of these Democratic debates is scheduled for Oct. 13 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

If he’s invited, let’s hope he shows up on time. Voters will know. What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.