Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O&rsquo;Malley, widely expected to be a candidate for the presidency in 2016, used his first major opportunity before a crowd in Iowa to deliver a colorful speech Sunday loaded with rhetorical zingers aimed at Republicans.<span style="font-size: xx-small;"><em>&nbsp; Daily Times Herald photo by Douglas Burns</em></span>
Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, widely expected to be a candidate for the presidency in 2016, used his first major opportunity before a crowd in Iowa to deliver a colorful speech Sunday loaded with rhetorical zingers aimed at Republicans.  Daily Times Herald photo by Douglas Burns
Monday, September 17, 2012

INDIANOLA — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who blends an Internet-era policy wonkishness with fiery old-school populism, showcased both Sunday afternoon in a speech that laid out his personal and political biographies and lampooned GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Speaking to more than 1,000 people at the Warren County Fairgrounds in Indianola at U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin’s 35th annual steak fry, a signature vetting ground for potential future presidential candidates, O’Malley peppered his speech on a hay-bale-adorned stage with colorful barbs aimed at Romney and other Republicans.

“We are the party of Social Security,” O’Malley said. “We are the party of Medicare. They are the party of ‘talk to the hand because I don’t care.’”

And O’Malley said he had a message for Romney, who has invested personal assets in overseas and island nation accounts.

“Just because you bet against America doesn’t mean the rest of us are ready to sell her out,” O’Malley said.

In a recent interview on Fox, Romney defended his foreign investments as perfectly legal. Vanity Fair magazine reported in August that Romney had interests in funds worth up to $30 million in the Cayman Islands.

“Well, first of all, there was no reduction, not one dollar reduction in taxes by virtue of having an account in Switzerland or a Cayman Islands investment,” Romney said in a ‘“Fox News Sunday” interview. “The dollars of taxes remained exactly the same. There was no tax savings at all.”

Some of O’Malley’s other notable remarks in the Harkin Steak Fry speech:

— “General Motors is alive and hiring and Osama bin Laden is not.”

— “Nostalgia is not what it used to be.”

— “They (today’s Republicans) are much more Mad Hatter than they are James Madison.”

— “We are the party that grows our economy. They are the party that wrecked our economy.”

— “These guys (Republican members of Congress) wouldn’t pass gas if they thought it would help the president accelerate our recovery.”

O’Malley, 49, a former two-term mayor of Baltimore, Md., joked that he grew up in a “small Irish Catholic family” of six children. Marylanders first elected O’Malley as governor in 2006. He won re-election with 56 percent of the vote in 2010.

In introducing O’Malley, Harkin, a veteran Iowa Democrat, noted the governor also was a former prosecutor — and Harkin acknowledged the speculation about a possible O’Malley presidential run in 2016.

“I’m sure it was probably just a very wild coincidence, but he spoke to the Iowa delegation at the convention,” Harkin said.

In a press conference near the grills for the steak fry, O’Malley responded to questions about his role in future elections by saying he was in Iowa to support President Barack Obama and other Democrats this November.

For his part, Harkin typically uses the steak-fry setting to unleash some of his more pointed partisan rhetorical volleys.

“Those poor Republicans, you know they’re in deep trouble when their No. 1 job at their convention was to humanize their candidate, Mitt Romney,” Harkin said. “Did they succeed? I don’t think so.”

Harkin said the absence of certain names and organizations from any air time at the recent Republican National Convention spoke volumes.

“They didn’t mention the tea party,” Harkin said. “They didn’t mention Sarah Palin, They conveniently forgot George W. Bush. I gotta think what that reminded me of. It kind of reminded me of the old Soviet Union. You know, they turned their former leaders into non-persons by airbrushing them out of  the pictures.”

Democratic congressional candidate Christie Vilsack used the forum to advance a central theme of her campaign to represent the vast 39-county 4th District in central and western Iowa. Vilsack said she views the jo

b as a local one.

Meanwhile, Vilsack said, her opponent, current 5th District U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, “is out on the national stage,” often making what she characterized as offensive comments about immigrants and others.

“We don’t need a bully for a congressperson,” Vilsack said.