MANCHESTER, N.H. — Attempting to push back on the idea that his presidential campaign is a nearly insurmountable long shot, Martin O'Malley arrived in New Hampshire on Sunday to sell himself as a fresh voice and progressive alternative to front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Visiting the key presidential primary state a day after announcing his long-expected candidacy in Baltimore, the former two-term Maryland governor used phrases like "new leadership" and "trying different things" almost immediately upon hitting the ground here — and it was a theme he repeatedly returned to throughout the day.
As he spoke with voters at a diner, addressed a small house party and delivered pizza to Dartmouth College students on the eve of their finals, O'Malley engaged in exactly the kind of retail politicking analysts say he needs to perfect in order to climb out of the single-digits in polls.
"I've always been drawn to the toughest of fights," O'Malley told a group gathered in Gilford, N.H., recounting his first run for mayor in 1999.
"The people I've met in New Hampshire refuse to be intimidated by big money, pundits, or the concentration of power [and] insisted on meeting every candidate, looking them in the eye, asking them questions and making up their own mind," he said.
O'Malley is far less well known than either Clinton or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist who has carved out space on Clinton's left since announcing his own campaign in April. Perhaps because of that, O'Malley made himself perpetually available as he traveled the state — to voters, to elected officials and to reporters.
The informal, less scripted interactions stood in contrast to the view of O'Malley many have seen in national television appearances and the sometimes stilted speeches he has delivered during his career.
After eating a few spoonfuls of a cup of Milky Way ice cream, O'Malley worked a small crowd gathered inside the Goldenrod Drive-In Restaurant in Manchester. He walked from table to table, fielding questions on college affordability, the economy and the country's nuclear posture.
His message appeared to resonate with several people in the room.
"I don't think Hillary's a lock," said Peter Morin, a 55-year-old Manchester resident after speaking briefly with O'Malley. "I don't like to see anyone anointed."
But whether O'Malley's focus on his past executive leadership or his increasingly strong admonishments of Wall Street will be enough to build momentum for his campaign is an open question. More than 60 percent of Democrats in New Hampshire identified Clinton as their first choice in a Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm poll in early May.
O'Malley was the first choice for 3 percent.
The former governor spoke with several dozen Democrats gathered at the home of Jerry Slagle, a Maryland native who worked with O'Malley on Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign. He stuck mainly to lines from his announcement speech, but also took questions from attendees.
As he spoke from atop a piano bench —- so he could be heard in the back of the room — O'Malley did not mention Clinton or Sanders directly. But he addressed both of his declared rivals with subtle political code.
To draw a distinction with Clinton — a former secretary of state, senator and first lady — O'Malley repeatedly described himself as a next-generation leader and argued that elections should not be coronations for political royalty. To distance himself from Sanders, he notes he hasn't "just talked about" liberal ideals, but has achieved them.
O'Malley announced his presidential campaign in Federal Hill Park on Saturday, entering a race many believe he has been considering for years. During his address, O'Malley cast the election in broad economic terms, suggesting middle class families have not benefited from the recovery as much as they should have.
He reiterated that point in an interview on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, while also suggesting he is no friend of Wall Street.
"I don't know what Secretary Clinton's approach to Wall Street might be. She will run her own campaign and I will run mine," O'Malley said. "I can tell you this. I am not beholden to Wall Street interests. There are no Wall Street CEOs banging down my door and trying to participate or help my campaign."
Another presidential candidate with Maryland ties, former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson, also spoke on the program. The Republican was asked about a national poll that showed him tied for first place for his party's nomination with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
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"Whether I'm a front-runner or not doesn't matter," Carson said. "What matters is that the people themselves are starting to listen and evaluate for themselves rather than listening to what people say I said and what people say that I meant."
O'Malley will spend significant time in early primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. That's partly because the Iowa caucuses dramatically shifted the course of the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama upset Clinton there by running as a change candidate.
The trip Sunday was O'Malley's fourth to New Hampshire this year.
Patrick Gosselin, a Hooksett, N.H., resident, wondered whether O'Malley couldn't do the same next year. Gosselin spoke with the former governor at the diner for several minutes before revealing that he had come to hear him speak despite never before voting for a Democrat.
"I'm tired of the old politics, tired of the Democrats and Republicans getting entrenched with their old ideas," Gosselin said as O'Malley walked away. "It just seems like he has the right personality to challenge the status quo, to challenge Hillary."