Presidential Hopefuls in Fort Lauderdale Today; Meet the Underdogs

Today there's a presidential candidate plenary — that's a fancy word for "big meeting" — in Fort Lauderdale, and five candidates are going to be here to speak at the Urban League's national conference. 

Surely, you've already media-overdosed on Clintons and Bushes by now, so here are some deets you may want to know prior to today's event. 

We have a reporter live-blogging from the plenary, so check back at browardpalmbeach.com for that as the day progresses.

Martin O'Malley 

Floridians might not be familiar with Democratic hopeful Martin O’Malley. But O’Malley, 52, is no newcomer. He’s got more than two decades of political experience under his belt.

O’Malley began his political career at 28, when he was elected to the Baltimore City Council. After eight years in that position, he ran for mayor. Although he is widely credited with reducing crime in Baltimore — which was crime-ridden when O’Malley took the reins in 1999 — critics have questioned his “zero tolerance” policies and argue that he did little to improve quality of life for the urban poor.

In 2007, O’Malley launched a successful bid to become governor of Maryland. After two consecutive terms, he announced in May that he’s throwing his hat into the presidential ring.

Pointing at his weak showing in the polls thus far — O’Malley is behind both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — the Atlantic dubbed him “The Long Shot.” But as O’Malley himself points out, he was the underdog when he ran for mayor. And yet, he won.
Indeed, O’Malley’s platform is likely to appeal to Democrats looking for something left of Hillary.

His vision, as described on his website, would see America transformed: O’Malley emphasizes breaking the cycle of poverty by leveling the academic playing field with affordable child care, universal pre-K, and “debt-free” college for all. He’d like to break the big banks’ and Wall Street’s grip on the economy, wrench low-income Americans out of the cycle of poverty, and revive the middle class. He proposes raising the minimum wage, advocates for greater workplace equality for women, and calls for sweeping immigration reform that would “expand our tax base, create jobs and lift wages — benefiting our country as a whole.”

O’Malley also wants to fight climate change and protect retirees by expanding social security. His platform shows a greater focus on domestic issues than on foreign policy. National security, O’Malley argues, would be achieved not through military ventures but, at home, by strengthening the economy and the middle class.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade here, but the reforms O’Malley proposes are overly ambitious at best and wildly unrealistic at worst — depending on whether the House goes Democrat or Republican.

Major donors: It’s worth noting that O’Malley comes in 16th on the New York Times’ list of “Which Candidates Are Winning the Money Race So Far.” He has raised a paltry $2 million. Compare that to Hillary’s cool $47.5 million.

However, O’Malley has managed to woo a small number of Hillary’s potential fundraisers and donors. He could also find significant support in Hollywood, where, in some circles, Hillary isn’t considered liberal enough. Dixon Slingerland, who raised nearly $1 million for Obama’s presidential bids, is reportedly throwing his weight behind O’Malley.

“Prominent members of a Massachusetts Democratic fundraising network that boosted Barack Obama” have hosted fundraising events for O’Malley, the Boston Globe notes. And, setting campaign finances aside, O’Malley has already surrounded himself with key players who helped catapult Obama into the White House. This “long shot” could give Hillary — and Bernie Sanders — a run for their proverbial money in the Democratic primaries.

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders’ name may sound more familiar to Floridians, as he’s spent some three decades in politics, beginning his career as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He went on to spend 16 years serving as Vermont’s congressman. He is currently in his second U.S. Senate term.
Sanders, who has described himself as a “Democratic socialist” in the past, kicked off his Democratic presidential campaign with a shindig on the shore of Lake Champlain. Ben & Jerry’s founders — who are Sanders supporters — were on hand, as was free ice cream. The event, which also included live music, is Sanders’ way of “trying to demonstrate he can mount a plausible campaign for the presidency without wooing the billionaires,” Russell Berman wrote in the Atlantic.

But I’d argue that the laid-back, grassroots launch was about more than fundraising. It also reflects Sanders’ platform-for-the-people. Like O’Malley, Sanders appeals to Democrats looking for something to the left of Hillary. But Sanders is doing better in the polls than O’Malley and has managed to raise a nothing-to-sneeze-at $15 million for his campaign.

Here’s where Sanders stands on the issues:
Sanders argues, correctly, that the American people are standing at a crossroads. We must choose between continuing “the 40-year decline of our middle class” and growing inequality versus fighting “for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment, and provides health care for all.” To stop the country’s “slide into economic and political oligarchy,” Sanders has proposed campaign finance reform through, among other things, supporting a constitutional amendment.

Sanders points out that not only is the gap between the rich and the rest of us growing but unemployment is higher than the official numbers. To combat this, he has supported an increase in the minimum wage and “opposed NAFTA… permanent normal trade relations with China… and other free trade agreements” because they take jobs away from Americans. Along with U.S. Congressman John Conyers Jr. (D-Michigan), Sanders sponsored the Employ Young Americans bill, which would see billions of dollars allocated to vocational training and jobs for youth.

Sanders wants to keep combating climate change; he also seeks to continue protecting workers’ rights to paid family leave, paid vacations, and paid sick time.

It’s worth noting that while O’Malley’s platform focuses on what he will do, Sanders’ website is cleverly written in the past tense — emphasizing what he’s already done in D.C. to begin addressing all of these issues.

Major donors: The American people. Ten million dollars of Sanders’ campaign funds have come from small contributions of less than $200.

Ben Carson
As an African-American, some commentators will try to draw parallels between Republican candidate Ben Carson and President Barack Obama. But they’ll be hard-pressed to find many parallels, professionally or politically. While Obama was a senator when he ran for president, this is neurosurgeon and writer Ben Carson’s first step into politics — that is, besides his sharp words at a 2013 National Prayer Breakfast.

Carson’s website trumpets his humble upbringing. A native of Detroit, Michigan, Carson grew up in poverty, raised by a single mother who didn’t finish elementary school. But it’s a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps tale: Carson worked hard in school, got good grades, and went on to Yale University. Later, he attended the University of Michigan School of Medicine and did his residency at Johns Hopkins. The American dream.

Today, Carson’s platform is unlikely to appeal to those who didn’t manage to get out of the old neighborhood in Detroit. Call him a conservative’s conservative (or a liberal’s nightmare). His website labels Obamacare a “looming disaster” and the Affordable Healthcare Act a “monstrosity.” Guess what his solution is: “More freedom and less government in our health care system.” This, he claims, we lead to “lower costs” and “more access.”

Yeah, tell that to the health insurance company I spoke to in 2006, when I was in graduate school, who told me it would cover “everything but” my reproductive organs for only $450 a month.

Carson says keep Guantanamo Bay open, affectionately referring to it as “Gitmo,” despite the human rights’ violations that occur there. Carson would like Congress to stop funding Planned Parenthood, likening abortion to slavery. And, in the wake of two separate shootings that killed two moviegoers in Louisiana and nine African-Americans in Charleston, Carson believes we must protect the Second Amendment, AKA the “right to bear arms.”

Major donors
: While their political views are worlds apart, contributions to Carson’s campaign look surprisingly like Sanders’, with 80 percent coming from “donations of $200 or less,” the NYT reports (noting, however, that this is just a portion of campaign funds).  
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