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For O'Malley, Latest N.H. Campaign Stop All About Boosting Name Recognition

Paige Sutherland for NHPR
Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley poses for a selfie in Concord Wednesday evening.

Democrat Martin O’Malley returned to the campaign trail in New Hampshire this week. His main challenge, at this point in the primary race, is introducing himself to as many Granite State voters as he can.

“How many of you believe very firmly that you have achieved a better quality of life than your parents and grandparents? Raise your hand. Most every hand. How many of you believe just as firmly your children and grandchild will enjoy a better quality of life? One or two, huh.”

That was O'Malley speaking to a crowd in Concord Wednesday evening. And, in a nutshell, it's the message fueling his presidential campaign: The idea that the American dream is fading, and that if the country does not act now, it will be lost.

It’s a message shared by many presidential candidates this year, including fellow Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. But unlike those candidates, O’Malley, who's lagging in most polls, has a little more work to do to get voters excited about his cause. 

Here is Pete Marcotte of Derry, who came to see O’Malley at The Halligan Tavern in Derry and echoed many attendees at O'Malley's events Wednesday:

“I don’t know much about him, and just trying to learn a little bit more.”

Paul Phillips, a lawyer from Plymouth, attended a house party for O'Malley in Concord that evening. Phillips said O’Malley’s first challenge is to to make himself better known to voters.

“For the Democrats this year, you know, everyone knows who Hillary is, Bernie is from the state next door so we all know who he is. So really, Governor O’Malley has an uphill fight to get his name recognized,” Phillips said.

For some, like Mary Rauh of New Castle, meeting O’Malley was enough to earn her support. She hosted a party for O’Malley in June. She said once people get to know him, the polls will turn around.

Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR
O'Malley speaks with attendees at a house party in Concord Wednesday.

  “He looks at people, he listens to people, he engages, he doesn’t just talk at them," Rauh said.

On the trail in New Hampshire, O'Malley seems to be making a concerted effort to connect with young voters, whether snapping selfies, playing his guitar, or drinking a Corona at a bar in Nashua. He’s also reaching out to younger generations on issues like college debt and climate change. 

This week at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, O'Malley spoke of his plan to help college students graduate debt-free. It's a subject that resonated with 23-year-old Bianca Acebron Peco of Bow. Acebron Peco currently faces more than $100,000 in student loans. She was one of a dozen current and former students who sat on a panel with O’Malley Wednesday morning.

"He is believable," Acebron Peco said. "I think everyone thinks politicians are kind of sketchy or whatever, but he is the most believable to me. I can’t trust Hillary Clinton.”

Tyler MacFarland, 23, of Rye said he was moved by O’Malley’s position on climate change.

“Especially as a young person, with the threat of climate change looming, if not upon us, I am excited that he just announced that he won’t take campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, which is the first in a presidential race," MacFarland said.

O’Malley supporter Dave Allen is senior vice president at the technology firm Dyn in Manchester. Allen said O’Malley stands out because he talks about issues that are personal for him. 

“He is very in tune with what is going on because he has lived it along with everybody else. And I think, especially at this time, it is really helpful because there are a lot of unique problems that you don’t understand unless you go through it," Allen said, pointing out how O'Malley and his wife took out more than $339,000 to send their two daughters to college.

Many of O’Malley’s supporters, including former state senator Peter Burling of Cornish, pointed to O’Malley's record as mayor of Baltimore and two-term governor of Maryland. Burling recited a list of what he considered O'Malley's achievements in office: “Marriage equality, a fair wage, healthcare, the Dream Act.”

But Albert Jernigan of Manchester questioned whether O’Malley’s 15 years experience on the local and state level would translate in Washington.

“Working on the state level is a little easier, but when you try to get to the higher office, can you get past Congress and the Senate and get all your stuff passed? That is the problem," Jernigan said.

When it comes down to it, Burling said, being a constant presence in New Hampshire is the only way O’Malley has a chance for the 2016 nomination.

“He is going to get attention when he can spend more time here, because people really like what they see," Burling said. "I mean, let’s face it, the guy is physically attractive, charming, smart. What is not to like? And he has good ideas, I’m sorry, you can’t downplay the importance of that.”

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