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Ann Arbor — He doesn’t have the same name recognition as fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls, so Martin O’Malley is fighting to get his message out.

Wednesday evening, the former Maryland governor was in downtown Ann Arbor for a low-key fundraiser. Earlier in the day, however, O’Malley made public his battle with the Democratic National Committee over the party’s debate schedule. O’Malley and Bernie Sanders are looking for as many opportunities to challenge front-runner Hillary Clinton as possible before and after the Iowa caucuses.

The proposed schedule of six debates is less than O’Malley’s camp had hoped for and may result in a legal challenge.

An attorney with the O’Malley camp told MSNBC that the party’s debate plan is “entirely unprecedented” and “legally problematic.”

In Ann Arbor, O’Malley spoke briefly with reporters about the uphill battle he faces against candidates in his own party and the Republican party who are closer to being household names. He understands the deficit he faces as the candidate currently running third, but he spoke with confidence about how that could change.

“I’m virtually unknown and I’m following that path of other unknowns — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and others who, nonetheless, climbed into a van and went town to town to town across Iowa,” O’Malley said, mentioning that he will be back on the campaign trail in Iowa on Thursday. “I’ve been in 25 counties of the 99 so far in Iowa and I intend to get to the others and then go back around for a second round …

“The history of our presidential primary shows us that usually there is an inevitable (early) front-runner, but only up until the very first contest. And then, especially in the Democratic Party, usually a candidate emerges who represents the voice of a new generation of Americans.

“And given the gravitational pull of our party toward the future, that usually sets up a race between the candidate of the past all of us have known for a long time, and the candidate of the future that not many of us had heard of until that first contest.”

If O’Malley is to be that candidate of the future, it will be based on his record on issues like criminal justice reform, climate change and social justice, coupled with many traditional Democratic themes.

“Among them, to make college more affordable — to move to a debt-free college in the next five years,” he said. “To raise minimum wage at $15 an hour wherever and however we can. Pay overtime pay for overtime worked, make it easier, not harder, for people to join labor unions and bargain collectively for better wages. That helps all of us.”

O’Malley hosted the fundraiser at the Arbor Brewing Company that seemed to draw a mixed-age group. Among those were U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell and others who were curious to hear what O’Malley had to say.

“He’s a new generation of leadership, which is what I think we very much need,” said George Franklin, who is serving as O’Malley’s Michigan campaign finance chairman. “ He’s a person that, he doesn’t equivocate on the issues. He stands for what he stands for ... . He’s got a vision. He knows where he’s going and he’s got a track record where he’s actually accomplished things.”

Matt Winick, 24, was intrigued by what his online research had shown him about O’Malley prior to Wednesday’s event. And after hearing his policies on climate change and civil rights issues in person, he was impressed.

“I’m still waiting a little bit, but I think so far, I’d say Martin O’Malley is No. 1,” he said.

Others running for the Democratic nomination are former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee and a former senator from Virginia, Jim Webb.

jlynch@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2034

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