Putting principle over polls seems to be the mantra of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's flailing campaign.
That and immigration reform.
It's no secret to the former Maryland governor's supporters or campaign that he extended in-state tuition to undocumented students and advocated for driver's licenses for undocumented people — or "New Americans," as he refers to them. But with low poll numbers — and low cash — the task of proclaiming O'Malley's immigration plan is a tedious and meticulous one.
THE MARRIOTT HOTEL, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2015/12/15: Presidential candidate Martin O'Malley giving remarks on immigration at the 8th annual National Immigration Integration Conference at the Marriott in Brooklyn. (Photo by Louise Wateridge/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Gabriela Domenzain, senior advisor to O'Malley's campaign, told TheBlaze in an interview at the conclusion of a several day tour of Iowa, that the campaign's plan to promote the governor's record and policy positions was a simple one — meet with as many people as possible and reiterate the message over and over again without straying from his views.
"He’s the only person who actually has a record of results on immigration. So as governor and mayor he implemented the most pro-immigrant, pro-New American policies," Domenzain said. "Really he’s been at the forefront of this issue from the beginning,."
"In Maryland he’s known as the Latino governor. So over the course of this race, he’s been leading on immigration precisely because it’s one of the biggest contrasts he has between Sen. [Bernie] Sanders and Secretary [Hillary] Clinton but it’s also one of the really clear examples that the governor can actually get things done," she continued.
And while that dig at O'Malley's Democratic presidential opponents seemed subtle, the campaign's rhetoric has been peppered with them — especially when it comes to Clinton.
"I stand before you today as the only candidate in this race of the three of us seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination who can actually point to a record of actions, not just words, but actions of actually getting things done," O'Malley said at a rally last week.
And again during Saturday's Democratic debate, O'Malley offered pointed distinctions between himself and the other candidates on gun legislation, the Islamic State and immigration. He drew staunch objections from the other two when he made the claim that the Islamic State encourages its supporters to buy guns at American gun shows as "it's because of the flip-flopping, political approach of Washington that both of my two colleagues on this stage have represented there for the last forty years."
But it's on immigration that the O'Malley camp seems to draw the sharpest contrasts.
"You have Secretary Clinton who has been all over the place on this issue," Domenzain emphatically told TheBlaze over the weekend. "So when she goes up to New Hampshire and somebody asks her what she is going to do about illegal immigrants, she responds and says she’s happy and proud that she’s voted time and time again for more money on the border to keep illegal immigrants out. But when she goes to Arizona and it comes to a predominantly Latino audience she talks, extols the virtues of undocumented immigrants who are the heart and soul of the country. She says one thing to one audience and another to another. That’s not leadership."
"Again, she is leading with polls, not principles. She doesn’t agree that New Americans should have full access to the Affordable Care Act," Domenzain continued. "She took money from private prisons until she was protested. So she has been the typical paradigm of Democrats who check a box that says they are for comprehensive immigration reform and unless immigration activists are protesting her, she will never be where they need her to be."
"As far as we know now, Clinton has said she wants to expand, but has not been specific how. She said she wants to go beyond the Dreamers. We are waiting to hear details," Lynn Tramonte, deputy director at America's Voice, an immigrant advocacy group, told NBC News in November.
Clinton drew ire with Hispanics on Tuesday after her campaign released a blog post titled, "Seven Ways Hillary Clinton is Just Like Your Abuela," using the Spanish word for grandmother. Soon, the hashtag "#NotMyAbuela" was trending on Twitter as activists took offense.
#NotMyAbuela why do candidates think it's ok to throw out a Spanish word w every sentence and expect Latino votes?— Maria Anez (@MariaAnez2) December 23, 2015
My abuelita brought the family here from Mexico. Made tortillas for 40+ years. She kept everyone's secrets. Hillary is #NotMyAbuela— Jason Redick (@JayReddy) December 23, 2015
Our experiences cannot be equated to those of a rich and privileged white woman. It's shameful and disrespectful to try #NotMyAbuela— Lupita Gonzalez (@pitaslug) December 23, 2015
My Abuela raised 6 children alone, and can't afford cancer treatment. #NotMyAbuela— Adamantium Dovahkiin (@raerraven) December 23, 2015
Sanders isn't exempt from the O'Malley camp's attacks. Domenzain argued that as the self-proclaimed socialist has represented the state of Vermont for more than 20 years, immigration "isn't an issue he's had to deal with." According to recent census data, Vermont is 95 percent white.
While Domenzain praised Sanders for drafting an immigration plan similar to O'Malley's — albeit, she said that theirs "goes further" — the immigration activist slammed the senator for publicly stating in an interview that immigrants can take jobs from other Americans and deflate wages. How can voters be sure that he "is going to change all of a sudden versus that he’s just a typical politician that says what he needs to tell us," she said.
Compared to Clinton's and Sander's, O'Malley's immigration plan is the "most progressively pro-immigrant," as Domenzain put it, and "stunningly explicit," as left-leaning The Nation put it. Among many other things, the plan extends the Affordable Care Act coverage to undocumented people in the U.S.
"Certainly compared to any of the other Democrats and all of the Republicans, [O’Malley’s platform] is so far more detailed and thorough than anyone else has been willing to express," Beth Werlin, director of policy at the Immigration Policy Center, told The Nation.
Besides immigration, O'Malley's camp has drawn a hard line between him and the other candidates on another issue out of the hands of both of his opponents — age.
The former Maryland governor received angry boos during Saturday's debate when he said, "may I offer a different generation's perspective on this." But the debate wasn't the first time he's made such a contrast.
Martin O'Malley, former governor of Maryland and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks to members of the media at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
In an interview with The Nation earlier in December regarding how his faith plays into his politics, O'Malley said ideologically the "progressive" label fits.
"I tend more toward 'progressive' because one of the distinguishing factors among the three of us as candidates — in terms of our experience — is that while the other two have talked about the things they wanted to get done, I've actually gotten these things done," O'Malley said. "Some of them — like repealing the death penalty, getting marriage equality — I could not have done without Republican votes. You don't get progressive things done by clinging to divisive old ideologies, and you don't do it by declaring all Republicans your enemies. You do it by being clear about your principles [and] pulling people together."
O'Malley's positions are progressive, to say the least, but Domenzain said that might not be a deterrent to independent or Republican voters.
"I think that an independent voter — or even some Republican voters — might disagree with, initially, with some of the progressive policies that he is putting up, but I do think that American voters have a high respect for principled leaders who don’t waver," she told TheBlaze. "But what [voters] don’t respect is someone who comes up to you and pretends to be anti-immigrant and then go into a pro-immigrant crowd and pretending to be pro-immigrant."
Because, as Domenzain said, for O'Malley's campaign, "it's a matter of leading with principle, not polls."