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Mr O'Malley declared his presidential intentions in Baltimore, where he was mayor before his stint as governor, and here, too, events have unsettled his ambitions. Prior to the city’s riots in late April, which had to be quelled with the help of the National Guard, Mr O’Malley’s stump speech had talked up his record on policing and his zero-tolerance approach to crime.
At the very least the riots have called this record into question. In an interview last month with the Marshall Project, a group which scrutinises the criminal-justice system, David Simon, the creator of “The Wire”, a TV crime series set in Baltimore, tore into Mr O’Malley’s policing policy in the city as a “wholesale denigration of black civil rights”. This is hardly the kind of ringing endorsement that will stir Democrats in the primaries to vote for Mr O’Malley. As it stands he is at the very bottom of the RealClearPolitics polling average for the Democratic nomination on less than 1%. That trails even Lincoln Chafee, who is expected to announce on June 3rd that he is standing for president despite his most memorable achievement being his switch from the Republican Party to run for governor of Rhode Island.
Mr O’Malley has time to make his case. He announced his candidacy 528 days before the general election. Why do presidential wannabes announce so early? Before the 1970s campaigns tended to be shorter. Candidates often announced only a few months before election day (see chart). Campaigns grew longer after the Democrats (and then the Republicans) rewrote their party rules to give more weight to primary elections in the states rather than secretive negotiations at the nominating convention. This forced candidates to make their pitches directly to ordinary voters, which takes longer. But even given the long campaign, it is doubtful that Mr O’Malley will make any dent in Mrs Clinton’s commanding lead.