Left, Right & Center: Survivor: Iowa Edition

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This week, Martin O’Malley was voted off the island.

He had not been pulling much momentum, and finished in a distant third in Iowa’s national presidential caucuses, which are sort of like voting, but far more confusing.

O’Malley never really had a chance to get his campaign off the ground. He entered during a particularly divisive time in American politics, and could never really match up to the buzz the other candidates drew.

Part of that rests on his shoulders. The key strategy that any candidate would need to follow to win the Democratic nomination would be to position themselves as an alternative to Hillary Clinton, and to the inside-the-Washington-Beltway-style of thinking that so many people on the right and a few on the left felt she embodied. In short, they would need to do what Barack Obama successfully accomplished in 2008.

This is no small feat when you consider the many years of political savvy that she brings to the table, as well as her financial strength. There were times before this campaign kicked off that she seemed to be fundraising before the gun, getting her staff and resources in place for a presidential bid. And anytime someone asked her about it, they would be told that she was still making up her mind. She was a formidable foe to any prospective candidates, indeed.

In stepped Bernie Sanders. The senator from Vermont ponied up to fill the roll of the “option B” candidate. He positioned himself as the alternative to Hillary, and ran on a platform that appealed to millennial voters, who make up a significant part of the democratic electorate. And as opposed to Clinton, who has been filmed on video making statements and speeches that contradict earlier positions she held, Sanders has espoused the same positions on the same set of issues for an overwhelming majority of his political career. In short, many democratic voters our age feel a sense of authenticity and a connection with him.

A dirty little secret of politics for those of you who haven’t figured it out by now: it’s mostly about image. You can see a perfect example of that in the way Obama and his team painted Mitt Romney as an “out of touch rich guy” in 2012. He was too slow to respond on the defensive, and for the rest of the campaign, whenever his name was brought up, so was his wealth — a proverbial albatross around his neck.

So, to bring it all together, O’Malley needed to be forceful off the bat and paint himself as the alternative to Clinton. After taking that mantle, he needed to run with it to propel his campaign. He let Sanders step in instead and ceded the political ground, which in my eyes, is the real reason he was never able to allow his run to become fully functional.

And so we bid adieu to the campaign of Martin O’Malley. In time, we will know the historical ramifications of the O’Malley run. Perhaps he won just enough caucus-goers in Iowa to put Clinton over the top. Perhaps he was merely another warm body in a field filled with them on both sides. Whatever the answer, he never seemed to have enough momentum to push to the top. And with that, the island grows smaller.

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