DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley ended his Democratic presidential campaign Monday midway through vote-counting in the Iowa caucuses, terminating a bid that failed to gain traction against rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
O'Malley’s decision to drop out of the race came even before a winner had been declared but as early results showed O'Malley garnering negligible support in the first primary contest.
‘‘We fought very, very hard ... in order to give the people a choice, and the people have made their choice tonight,’’ O'Malley told supporters in Des Moines after bowing out Monday.
The former two-term governor and Baltimore mayor campaigned as a can-do chief executive who had pushed through key parts of the Democratic agenda in Maryland, including gun control, support for gay marriage and an increase in the minimum wage.
A veteran of Colorado Sen. Gary Hart’s presidential campaigns in the 1980s, O'Malley sought to portray himself as a fresh face for a party searching for new ideas. He launched some of the toughest critiques of the race, accusing Clinton of being on ‘‘three sides’’ of the gun control debate and offering ‘‘weak tea’’ when it came to policing Wall Street.
But the ex-governor struggled to raise money and was mired in single-digit polls for months, despite an active operation in Iowa and New Hampshire. His campaign was forced to accept federal matching funds in the fall and he failed to become Clinton’s chief alternative as Sanders tapped into the party’s liberal base.
Along the way, O'Malley’s campaign dealt with poor timing and some bad breaks. His campaign kickoff was complicated by riots in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, bringing fresh scrutiny of O'Malley’s law enforcement record as the city’s mayor.
Jason Yates, a precinct captain Monday night for O'Malley at a caucus site outside Des Moines, said he was disappointed but not surprised.
‘‘Pretty uphill battle from the start for him here,’’ he said.
O'Malley performed well in the televised debates but it never amounted to a marked boost in poll numbers or fundraising. He entered the race after Sanders, who quickly generated massive crowds around the country and a loyal following in the early states. Sanders’ appeal with liberals — and his online fundraising machine — gave O'Malley little room to become the face of the party’s smaller anti-Clinton wing.
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey and Barbara Rodriguez contributed to this report.