Martin O’Malley for Upping the Minimum

Posted: January 13, 2016 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog
Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley stands on a chair at Uncle Nancy's Coffee House in Newton.

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley stands on a chair at Uncle Nancy’s Coffee House in Newton.

On a sunny Monday in Newton, Iowa, there was no afternoon lull at Uncle Nancy’s Coffee House. Just after noon, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley stood on a chair and spoke to a standing room only crowd and immediately ushered the group to not discount his viability based on the polls. Complimenting Iowa for choosing solid candidates as the winner of the Iowa caucuses, he continuously let the group know he was putting his faith in them that they will support him despite the odds come February 1. 

“You feel it’s your birthright to be able to upset the apple cart,” O’Malley said of Iowa’s place as the first official progress report of the presidential race. “Well, with only three of us left in this race, I’m the only one that can still upset the apple cart, and I need your help.”

O’Malley’s concern over a lack of support in Iowa may stem from NBC’s possible decision to exclude him from the upcoming national Democratic debate on January 17. Before and after the event, young volunteers and staffers circled the room asking attendees to sign Commit to Caucus cards and write down their information. Following the event, O’Malley himself asked us for our support when we shook his hand.

To a white and predominantly older group, O’Malley’s stump speech was a plea for Iowans to upset the metaphorical apple cart and surprise the country by helping him win the caucuses.

Pam Poynter, who has lived in Newton for around 25 years, supports O’Malley’s stance on raising the minimum wage.

“Nobody should have to work a couple jobs to scrape together money to support a family,” Poynter said. “They always say if you get the education or the skills you can get a better job, but not everyone has that capacity. Why shouldn’t they get $15 an hour?”

Another attendee at the event, Nathan, who is a Newton teen and O’Malley supporter who holds a part time job at McDonalds, disagreed based on Newton’s history of drug abuse.

“I don’t think I deserve that much money,” he said, sharing the concern of another attendee who told the former governor that teens with too much money will spend it on unhealthy habits.

On the subject of minimum wage, Nathan questioned O’Malley as to whether raising the minimum wage would upset the economy and cause inflation.

“There’s no evidence that raising the minimum wage so that it’s at least above the poverty line for a family of two has a detrimental impact,” O’Malley said. “When you stop raising the minimum wage, when you make it harder for people to join labor unions, when you don’t increase social security benefits, all of these things…slow your economy.”

As one of the few youths in the room, it was the teens and college kids like Nathan who O’Malley addressed when he asked how many young people wanted to make less than minimum wage. To no one’s surprise, the room remained silent. In his own state, O’Malley praised himself on raising the minimum wage to $10.10.

The Maryland governor’s experience and 15 point plan were heavily relied on in his speech and were continuously referenced when answering the public’s questions. However, his thorough rehearsal of responses may have failed him when it came to our group member Betsy Hart’s question on what the governor would do as president to assist recent college graduates with mounting student debt. Responding that he would lower interest rates before moving on to the next question, his lack of a comprehensive response led to Hart being questioned by a Des Moines Register reporter, who used her views on O’Malley in his article on the event.

O’Malley may be low in the polls, with a consistently wide margin between himself and the two Democratic frontrunners, but in small-town Iowa, he is still receiving media attention and homegrown support from a dedicated grassroots team.

Sarah LeBlanc, Betsy Hart, Elizabeth Stanczyk, Adam Sickley and Gary Teow contributed to this post.