Before last week's Democratic presidential debate, the first of the primary season, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley wasn't on the radar of many New Hampshire voters.
“I didn’t know he existed" before the debate, said Jim Bonney of Meriden. But after hearing O'Malley debate against the rest of the Democratic presidential field, Bonney concluded that he was worth paying attention to. So much so, that Bonney joined a crowd to hear O'Malley speak in Hanover Friday evening.
Throughout the debate, and in a string of campaign stops this past weekend, O’Malley painted himself as a progressive executive– touting his experience as mayor of Baltimore and two-time governor of Maryland.
"Passing gun safety legislation, dream act, marriage, raising the minimum wage, that’s what you do as an effective executive,” he told NHPR.
O’Malley, barely registering in most state polls, viewed the first debate as a necessary venue to jumpstart his campaign.
“The debate could not have come too soon for us, we really needed that,” he said.
That’s also why he has been pushing to add more debates to the Democratic primary calendar. This cycle, the Democratic National Committee has six debates the schedule. In 2008, the last time there was a competitive Democratic primary,the party had already held nine debates by this time.
O'Malley's visit to Dartmouth College, three days after the debate, drew more than a hundred people, well beyond what the campaign says it expected.
Tom Lanzetta of Lebanon was one of those in the audience. He said O'Malley's debate performance was the only reason he came.
“It seems like he has achieved a lot, in results in both as a mayor and governor, so we are impressed with how much he got done on guns and that kind of stuff,” Lanzetta said. Prior to the debate, Lanzetta said, he was supporting Bernie Sanders, but now he said he feels he has more options in the democratic field.
Paul Hogan, athletic director at NHTI in Concord, where O’Malley also spoke Friday, said he was impressed by O’Malley’s record, as well as his delivery on stage.
“He speaks well, he is genuine, he’s well read. He has some good ideas. And he doesn’t just speak off the cuff,” Hogan said.
Regardless of the media assessments of last week’s debate, O’Malley’s campaign views his performance as a victory.
“Our main goal was to introduce the governor to a national audience. We won introducing him; we showed there’s a credible alternative to getting things done,” said O’Malley’s deputy New Hampshire director Matt Sheaff.
He said since last week they have received a jump in calls, volunteers and even financial contributions.
Former state Sen. Pete Burling of Cornish, an O’Malley supporter, said he expects this exposure will reflect positively in the polls.
“Do I expect over the week or so to see a bump up from ones and twos to eights and tens? I do expect to see that,” Burling said.
But not everyone was pleased by O’Malley’s performance. Bob Noelte, of Concord, who came out to hear O'Malley speak at NHTI, said the candidate sounded too much like a politician for his liking.
“There wasn’t a feeling, an emotion, a naturalness that I would have hoped. I thought it was more of a scripted type of delivery,” Noelte said.
The next Democratic debate is scheduled for November 14 in Iowa, followed by one in New Hampshire on December 19.