During his fourth trip to Iowa this year, the early-voting state where presidential campaigns take hold or wilt, Gov. Martin O'Malley pitched his brand of leadership to local Democrats during a two-day swing through the Midwest.
The Maryland governor had three points for the crowd of 50 gathered at Baratta's Restaurant in Des Moines on Saturday morning — things "I'm noticing," he explained, as he travels from state to state on behalf of Democratic candidates.
First, O'Malley said, the economy had not improved enough under President Obama, for whom the governor was once an unapologetic surrogate. "It's working better than what it was," O'Malley said. "But it's not really working well."
Second, he argued that, especially among people under 40, there was "a big generation shift afoot" in Americans' perspectives. "Many of us were told, those of us over 50," said O'Malley, who at 51 years old barely qualifies, "that the key to success is to specialize and separate from others. Young people believe it's proximity, closer to action to others. They are multi-disciplinary, conceptually."
And last, O'Malley sold what he described as a "new way of governing" best embodied by mayors. (He was one for eight years in Baltimore.) "[It's] entrepreneurial, it's collaborative, it's performance-measured, it's individually responsive, it's real-time, real fast, and really visible for everyone to see thanks to technology and the internet," he told the group of volunteers and local officials, according to a transcript of the event provided by an O'Malley aide.
The brief speech — a diagnosis of the stagnant economy, and a proposal for fresh, executive leadership — read like the outlines of what could be O'Malley's message to national Democratic voters.
The governor has said he is making preparations to launch a possible White House bid. O'Malley will finish his second and last term as governor in January. He has spent months campaigning for other Democrats, appearing at more than 80 fundraisers and traveling to as many as 19 states since the start of 2013.
He has headlined 17 events in Iowa since last summer and donated more than $31,000 to Democrats there, according to figures provided by an aide.
On the ticket this fall, the state will decide a governor's race, two congressional races, and one of the tightest U.S. Senate races of the midterm elections. Iowa poll results published on Saturday night showed Rep. Bruce Braley, the Democrat, trailing state Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican, by just one point.
Brad Anderson, the Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of state, appeared with O'Malley at a second event on Saturday at the state party's Des Moines field office. Anderson praised the governor for his "hard work" on behalf of candidates in the state. "I'm going to be very blunt here. There are few people that have been more helpful to Iowa Democrats in 2014 than Governor Martin O'Malley."
Earlier this year, O'Malley sent staffers, paid for through his PAC, to the state to help on campaigns there. Ready for Hillary, an outside group urging Hillary Clinton run for president again, also dispatched staff to Iowa and 13 other states.
Despite his four trips to the state, O'Malley still barely registers on national polls.
In his own state, where his lieutenant governor and hand-picked successor is in a tighter than expected race for governor, surveys show the majority of Marylanders don't want O'Malley to run for president. More than 60% of registered Democrats in the state said they wanted Clinton as their next nominee. Only 3% chose O'Malley. Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, and Bernie Sanders, a U.S. Senator from Vermont, received the same level of Maryland support.
After his two events in Iowa, O'Malley traveled to Minnesota to keynote the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Founders' Day dinner in Minneapolis. On Sunday, he is scheduled to return to Iowa for two Young Democrats appearances.
Bernie Sanders is the U.S. senator from Vermont. A previous version of this story misspelled his last name.