There's a myth among Hillary Clinton supporters that decades of experience has made the former secretary of state the most pragmatic choice for president in 2016. And like most fairy tales, it conveniently glosses over the heroine's flaws: her 31,000-plus missing emails (the subject of a lawsuit by the Associated Press), questions about foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, and direct donations to Ms. Clinton from big banks, including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan.
But there is an alternative. Rather than rallying around someone who can't seem to elude perpetual media scrutiny, the person all Democrats should pay close attention to is former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley who is poised to officially join the race Saturday. The former Baltimore mayor and two-term governor offers a genuine alternative to the status quo within Washington and a real threat to any GOP challenger — especially Jeb Bush.
Mr. O'Malley, unlike Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, isn't linked to perpetual scandal and criticism, nor is he beholden to foreign donors, investment banks or a family surname. He rightfully stated that the presidency isn't "some crown to be passed between two families" and compared to Ms. Clinton, Mr. O'Malley offers a genuinely progressive outlook on American politics. When both candidates are analyzed, it's apparent that one caters to poll-driven centrism while the other is far more confident in a progressive vision for America.
While Ms. Clinton voted for the invasion of Iraq, Mr. O'Malley has been a longtime critic of the Iraq War. As governor, Mr. O'Malley sponsored and signed a same-sex marriage bill when Hillary Clinton was overtly against gay marriage. He also signed a marijuana decriminalization bill, while Ms. Clinton has said she was against the decriminalization of marijuana. Martin O'Malley wants to bring back Glass-Steagall, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership a "bad trade deal," and urged the Senate in 2014 to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, once referred to TPP as "the gold standard in trade agreements," and she still hasn't taken a stance on the Keystone XL pipeline.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the Clinton campaign (one that Mr. O'Malley and fellow Democratic aspirants Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Sen. James Webb don't face) is a "trust deficit" felt even by many liberals. A recent Washington Post article titled "For Hillary Clinton, a trust deficit to surmount," highlights how even favorable polls indicate a lack of trust.
More than six in 10 voters (62 percent) said that Ms. Clinton has "strong leadership qualities." In that same sample, though, less than four in 10 (38 percent) said she was honest and trustworthy. A majority (54 percent) said she is not honest and trustworthy, including 61 percent of independents.
With Martin O'Malley, however, leadership skills don't translate to a majority of people questioning his honesty. This will be important when compared to Jeb Bush or a future GOP challenger.
Martin O'Malley represents an honest, bold and capable alternative to Hillary Clinton and a worthwhile challenger to Mr. Bush or any other GOP candidate. He isn't a magnet for perpetual scandal, and he isn't beholden to special interests or vapid centrism. These competitive advantages over Clinton will help him defeat any Republican for important battleground states in 2016.
H. A. Goodman is a columnist, author and journalist. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.