More PBR than politics at O'Malley Carl's stop
The Martin O'Malley strategy for winning over a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at Carl's Place: light on the politics, heavy on the tunes.
The Democratic presidential hopeful and former Maryland governor spoke for only five minutes at the Sherman Hill dive bar on Thursday night, making his regular calls for fighting climate change and securing paid family leave. Then he strapped on a guitar for a jam session with Maxwell Jury, a Des Moines singer-songwriter who tours internationally.
The Des Moines crowd held cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon instead of campaign signs, and several in the front row danced as the candidate known in his home state for fronting an Irish-rock band sang Johnny Cash's classic "Folsom Prison Blues" with Jury backing him on piano. As he took the stage, O'Malley said he was asked by a reporter how he felt about campaigning in a bar.
"I feel pretty comfortable being in a bar," he said before shucking off his coat, jacket and tie.
O'Malley, who at 52 is the youngest Democrat in the field, remains trailing in polls nationally and in Iowa behind his two rivals, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. But he argued to the crowd that a good showing in Iowa could propel his campaign going forward.
"We cannot be this dissatisfied with our gridlocked national politics and an economy where we're all working harder but not getting ahead and think that a resort to failed ideologies or old names is going to move us forward," he said. "The people of Iowa know that new leadership is important."
Many in the audience sang along as O'Malley played Passenger's "Scare Away the Dark," a song that's one in a rotation that the former governor regularly sings on the campaign trail. Sam Hagen, 21, a Minnesota native who's studying music education at Drake University, was impressed by former governor's energetic speech and guitar playing — though he's still undecided on whether he will caucus for any candidate.
"It shows that he supports the fine arts," said Hagen, who came to the event with other Drake students. "And that's really important to all of us."
Erin Besser, 21, a Des Moines native and also a Drake music student, said she's still deciding who to support, but is leaning toward O'Malley because of his stances on providing debt-free college education. Besser said that Sanders' plan to provide free public college education to students doesn't resonate much with her because Drake is a private school.
"I like his focus on the future," she said of O'Malley.
The former governor stayed at Carl's Place for almost two hours after the speech and jam session, shaking hands, drinking a beer and posing for pictures while music ranging from hip-hop to Bruce Springsteen played through the bar's speakers.
AT THE EVENT:
Setting: Carl's Place in Des Moines' Sherman Hill neighborhood
Crowd: The bar was filled with a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd.
Reaction: The crowd cheered and applauded often through O'Malley's five-minute speech.
What's next: O'Malley will be in eastern Iowa on Friday, the second of a five-day swing through the state.