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Apr 23, 2017 9:33 PM

Did I just witness the start of the 2020 presidential campaign in NH?

NH1.COM

SALEM –Martin O’Malley preached reforming the Democratic Party and taking “our country back” at the first stop of his first visit to New Hampshire since the 2016 election.

And while he says his trip to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state was all about 2018 rather than 2020, O’Malley’s address to a group of Democrats at a house party in Salem may be the beginnings of a stump speech in the next race for the White House.

Initial stops in the Granite State by potential presidential contenders are often small affairs, and this was no different. The 2016 Democratic presidential candidate spoke to some 40 Democratic activists at the home of Beth and Mark Roth

O’Malley told the crowd that reforming the Democratic Party “won’t come from inside the Beltway in Washington. It’s going to come from you. It’s going to come from all of you here in New Hampshire, in Maryland, and in other states across the United States. That’s how our party’s going to be reformed.”

“And that’s how we’re going to get our country back. And when our party comes back, and surely we will, it’s going to be a much more distributive and inclusive, a much more network sort of party, than we’ve known in the past,” he added.

O’Malley trip’s generating a lot of buzz that he’s seriously considering another run for the White House in 2020. O’Malley’s visit follows two stops already this year to Iowa (which traditionally holds the first caucus in the race for the White House) and one to South Carolina (which holds the first southern contest).

But the former two-term Maryland governor and two-term Baltimore mayor is pushing back against such speculation, telling NH1 News that his visit’s all about 2018.

Asked by NH1 News if the day-long visit is a tune up for another White House run, O’Malley answered that “I made a lot of friends in New Hampshire and Iowa and it’s way too early to make any sort of decision about a presidential run in 2020. But it’s not too early for us to fix our country, to gear up for the very next election.”

That said, helping candidates from their party in the midterms before running for the White House in the ensuing presidential election has been a route well-traveled over the years by countless White House contenders.

And a handful of Democratic state lawmakers who asked to remain anonymous told NH1 News that an O'Malley aide had contacted them to inquire if they could attend one of the events where the former governor is speaking on Sunday.

Beth Roth, who along with her husband co-hosted O’Malley’s first stop, was the Democratic nominee in last year’s Executive Council election in District 3. She said that aides to O’Malley “reached out the Salem Democratic Town Committee. I’m very active on the committee and I was asked if I would host the event and it looks like my place is usually the gathering place for the Democrats and Salem.”

O'Malley told NH1 News that he's got his eyes on 2018 right now, explaining that “I look forward to helping my friends in New Hampshire and other states move our country forward by first moving their states forward.”

And he pointed to the Granite State, where Republicans currently control the governor’s office as well as both houses of the state legislature.

“The only way we’re going to be a majority governing (party) is by first winning back our states. We’ve lost so many statehouses and so many governors offices that in order to lead our country we first need to win back our states,” O’Malley stated.

But O’Malley is optimistic, saying he’s seeing encouraging signs.

“There’s a wellspring of new activism and new candidates that I think are going to emerge after the grief of this last election. And you’re going to see it in New Hampshire and every other state. I predict you’re going to see more young people running for office than you’ve ever seen before. And that’s a very positive thing for our country,” he said.

O’Malley’s 2020 prediction

Asked if he has any timetable for making a 2020 decision, O’Malley answered “I haven’t really put a timetable to any of that.”

But he predicted that “I think you’re probably going to see a lot more candidates running this time than last time. And I think you’ll also hopefully see a much more open debate process than we had the last time.”

O’Malley loudly criticized moves in the 2016 primaries by then Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to limit the number of presidential debates between O’Malley, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the eventual nominee.

In this year’s hotly contested race for DNC chair, O’Malley backed South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Tom Perez, who served as Labor Secretary under President Barack Obama, ended up winning the chair election.

O’Malley appeared to take an indirect shot at the DNC, telling NH1 News “I’m going to do everything I can to help the Democratic Party, especially at the state level. Eventually I think the Democratic National Committee will catch up to the reality that we have to make our state parties strong. And I’m looking forward to coming to New Hampshire and helping the local Democrats there as they gear up towards the midterms in 2018.”

As for the new DNC chair and fellow Maryland resident, O’Malley said “I hope that Mr. Perez is able to do what people said all across the country which is to put in motion a 50 state strategy to empower our party at the local and state level so we can support our candidates and win elections.”

Republican nominee Donald Trump topped Clinton in the electoral college vote last year to win the presidency. But he lost by nearly three million votes to Clinton in the national popular vote. That has many on the left, including O’Malley, calling for the scrapping of the electoral college.

He said it’s “outlived its usefulness.”

“We hold ourselves out as a beacon of self-government and democracy for the world and yet twice in the last 16 years we’ve elected presidents who did not win the majority of our country’s votes,” O’Malley added.

But many in New Hampshire, which for two decades has been a presidential battleground in general elections, believe the state would become irrelevant after the primaries if the electoral college were scrapped. The belief is that the nominees would campaign in voter rich states such as California, New York, and Texas rather than small states such as New Hampshire.

But O’Malley said “I don’t New Hampshire is ever going to be irrelevant…..Every state’s important and New Hampshire will always be important.”

The stop in Salem was the first of three for O’Malley during his one day swing through New Hampshire. O’Malley later spoke at a Bedford Democratic Committee gathering at the home of Pam Van Arsdale and Bob Dewey, and at a town hall hosted by Kent Street Coalition, the Hopkinton Democrats, Concord Democrats, Merrimack County Democrats, and Canterbury Citizens for Democracy at the Baker Free Library in Bow.

Former Maryland governor and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley speaks to a crowd of activists in Salem on April 23, 2017

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