Martin O’Malley in 10 Minutes or Less
Expecting crowds, impossible parking and being unable to find Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley because of my horrible sense of direction yet encountering none of these fears, I arrived at the festival an hour early to see the former Maryland Governor at the Latino Heritage Festival in Des Moines on Sunday, which gave me the opportunity to kill some time and meet some really interesting people. I also got hit in the face and tangled up in a child’s balloon, but that’s beside the point.
Next to a Pina-Colada stand I found a booth hosting the group League of United Latin American Citizens, which works to inform Latin American voters about the candidates and encourages involvement in the caucuses. Christian Ucles, the group’s political director, talked to me about the substantial sway Latino voters in the United States hold in elections, despite making up only a small percentage of Iowans. Ucles also shared that the group is non-partisan and allows and even encourages republican candidates to speak to the group even though the Latino vote has been overwhelmingly democratic in past elections.
When 1:20 p.m. finally came around, I headed to large, covered tent in the corner of the fair where a Mariachi band was playing. I assumed that they would clear the stage when O’Malley arrived, but after asking several staff members if they knew where he would be speaking to no avail, I began to wonder if I would find the candidate in time. Walking aimlessly, as I’m bound to do, I wandered the Festival, bought a Pina-Colada, and looked up to see Martin O’Malley at the tent across from me. Since I didn’t know where he would speak, I followed him for at least 20 minutes as he walked the entire Festival, stopping often at booths to greet vendors and take selfies. When he passed the Simpson College booth, he was joined by an entourage of students holding campaign posters. And, I will note, he was not hit by a single balloon.
Annoyingly slurping the last of my non-alcoholic Pina Colada while still kind of stalking O’Malley, a bee started flying around my cup and landed on the edge. Naturally, I dropped the cup and slowly backed away as the bee came toward me. I stared at the cup for a minute and was going to pick it up and take it to the trash can once O’Malley started to move again and the bee flew away when one of his supporters came from the front of the crowd and fearlessly picked it up for me, throwing it away in the trash without glancing in my direction or giving me a hint that she even knew the cup was mine. If it wasn’t already clear where O’Malley stood on the issue of climate change and the environment, his supporters left no doubt.
O’Malley finally settled on a small black platform in front of a white tent next to the wrestling arena. As this was my second time seeing the former Governor, I was able to pick out a few key phrases he used the last time I saw him. He quoted the key element of his campaign slogan, “American Dream,” three times (which is nothing compared to Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, who used the phrase and its variation of “the idea of America” over a dozen times during the speech I witnessed him give at the Des Moines Register soap box at the Iowa State Fair this summer) and more heavily stressed his stance on immigration due to the increased attendance of Latinos in the crowd.
After speaking for around eight minutes of classic stump speech material, several of the attendees stepped up to ask O’Malley questions about specific situations their families were confronted with as a result of immigration or incarceration laws. One woman, whose mother was deported six years ago after living in the country for over 20 years, came to the front of the crowd with her children and sister and asked O’Malley what he would do to help their family if elected president. Though he didn’t directly answer her question, he used this opportunity to launch into the injustices of the immigration system and branched off into a tangent about his success as mayor and then Governor of Maryland. This was his standard routine when specific questions like these came up, but since he’s not yet in a position to change these situations, I thought he was respectful and genuinely sympathetic to the position these women found themselves in.
When O’Malley finished answering questions (and, it’s worth being noted, he spent over twice the amount of time answering questions as he did reciting his stump speech), I approached Julie Latrell, a woman from Adel who asked the former Governor about his stance on woman’s rights, and asked what brought her to the Festival.
“I came here just to hear Governor O’Malley,” Latrell said. Though she’s currently undecided, she liked what O’Malley had to say and is active in the political community, saying she would have gone to see Bernie Sanders on Saturday if she had known he was at the Festival. “I try to work for the candidate I like, I caucus, I’m active.” Unfortunately, if previous years are any indication, she is one of a rare few who can truthfully say this statement.
O’Malley signed autographs and I left the festival, but I couldn’t help thinking that seeing the presidential candidate wasn’t the most enlightening thing that happened that day.