The Democratic field for the presidential nomination is down to three candidates, and sitting third in the polls for the DNC is Martin O'Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore and two-term governor of Maryland. With Hillary Clinton holding relatively steady at the top, and Bernie Sanders a not-too-distant second, O'Malley really has to make a huge push soon if he wants to nudge his way closer to the top. It's not that O'Malley doesn't stand out, it's just that his unique qualities have so far not been able to win him the same crowds and loyalties that Clinton and Sanders have gained. Clinton began her campaign already with a hefty following, and Sanders' farther left tendencies have made him popular with Democrats who are tired of more centrist candidates. O'Malley also leans further to the left than Clinton does, but not far enough to be as much of a novelty as Sanders has proven himself to be. Despite this, there are still ways for him to stand out in the next debate that would make O'Malley a bigger threat in the race overall.
A major advantage that O'Malley has in the race, over Clinton in particular, is that he is quite popular with working class white voters. Clinton is often accused of seeming out of touch with middle and lower class needs, given that she is a part of the 1 percent. And for middle class voters who find Sanders to be a little too radical for his policies to be viable, this is a valuable demographic for O'Malley to play up. O'Malley supporters also feel that he has a strong chance of having broad appeal to black voters (Baltimore, where he formerly served as mayor, is 63 percent African American, according to the New York Times).
All three democratic candidates have experienced cringe-worthy missteps or push-back when speaking to the Black Lives Matter movement, (Clinton has been protested by Black Lives Matter several times, Sanders shouted down Black Lives Matter protesters at a campaign appearance in August, and O'Malley had to apologize after saying "All lives matter" at a conference). However, O'Malley was on the ground in Baltimore soon after the protests over Freddie Gray's death broke out, and was there to witness exactly what Baltimore was going through. O'Malley can step up and go beyond his apology by speaking more directly to black Americans who are looking for better representation in the Democratic party. O'Malley can and should distinguish himself by digging deep on this issue, and make it about racial justice, and not just a campaign item.
While racism in America is a topic that can't be understated in terms of importance, there are also other areas where O'Malley can stand out. It seems that one of O'Malley's struggles right now is that he is up against two candidates who are very special for different reasons. To reduce it down to very simplistic terms, Clinton is special because she is a Clinton, and also because she would be the first woman president; Sanders is special because he is a socialist, and the U.S. just don't see either of these sorts of people in a realistic position to win a major party's nomination very often (or ever before, really). Both Clinton and Sanders have been able to very successfully brand themselves on these points, which leaves O'Malley seeming a little more like the standard model in the race. But played the right way, this could be a major upside.
At some point further down the line, voters might grow tired of Sanders' impassioned yelling, making O'Malley the more desirable candidate for voters who lean left of Clinton. The greatest task at hand for the O'Malley campaign is garnering enough attention and momentum to make this case to voters. O'Malley is the natural choice for Democrats who don't think Sanders' policies are viable, but who are disillusioned with Clinton and don't care for her policies. Taking even a cursory look through O'Malley's stance on the issues and the policies he's vied for in the past, like pushing for refinancing on student loans and moving legislation for renewable energy, there's no questioning that he's perhaps the true blue liberal among the DNC candidates. It may just take some additional time for O'Malley to have enough of an opening in the Clinton/Sanders show to really drive this point home and capitalize on the appeal this could hold for voters.
The whole issue seems to be whether or not he can ultimately work himself close enough to the spotlight such that he could potentially overtake the two powerhouses in his midst. There's no doubt that O'Malley has a very long way to go from around 1 percent in the polls, but it doesn't seem to be for genuine lack of appeal so much as the boundless appeal that Clinton and Sanders seem to have at the moment. O'Malley has the record, the smarts, and the overall demeanor that would be desirable to Democratic voters, he's just in a spot where he has to work incredibly hard to shine through the charisma (and funding) of his fellow candidates. While he might seem a bit "normal" next to Clinton and Sanders, his solid liberalness is really a secret weapon. His campaign just needs to find the exact right moment to deploy it.