The last moments of Martin O’Malley’s campaign

Martin O'Malley greets supporters
Martin O'Malley greets supporters at a canvass launch in Des Moines on Monday (Caroline Kenny/MEDILL)

By Caroline Kenny

DES MOINES —At the final event of his presidential campaign, just hours before he dropped out of the race, Martin O’Malley offered a rallying cry to his Iowa supporters and urged them to “hold strong” at their caucus locations.

Surrounded by his family, O’Malley spent the waning hours of his campaign with volunteers who came from all over the country to spread his progressive, can-do message. They could not have known that he would win just 0.6 percent of the caucus vote – a flyspeck compared with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who each had 49 percent.

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O’Malley, former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, arrived at his Des Moines headquarters shortly after 3:30 p.m. and ran inside to the song “Shipping Up to Boston” blasting from a speaker outside. He was met with loud cheers, high fives and continuous applause.

Cheers of “O’Malley” and “Fear the Turtle” – in honor of Maryland’s official state reptile and the University of Maryland mascot, the terrapin – kept the crowd riled up throughout the governor’s almost hour-long meet and greet.

“My message to the O’Malley supporters is to hold strong,” O’Malley said. “Talk with the other people there at the caucus and get us up to viability. That’s what we have to do tonight.”

The room was dominated by young people not intimidated by the governor’s low poll numbers that had plagued him since his campaign announcement in May. A group of students from the University of Chicago drove to Des Moines for the weekend to lend their support and canvas for O’Malley. Young people from Maryland were decked out in University of Maryland t-shirts.

With this final event of the Iowa swing turning out to be the final event of the entire campaign, the whole O’Malley family was in attendance, including the governor’s four children.

Grace O’Malley, the oldest daughter at age 24, said that many of the issues that the governor has made the platform of his campaign really resonate with young people.

“Things like debt free college are issues the younger generation really cares about,” she told Medill Reports. “Young people need to know that someone cares about what they care about and I think my dad has done a good job of really listening to young people and advocating for them on a national stage.”

O’Malley highlighted his tenure as governor in calling for college to be more affordable.  He urged a reduction in tuition rates and the creation of multiplePathways to graduation while increasing college preparedness.

O’Malley was also a strong advocate for stricter gun control laws, comprehensive immigration reform, and taking on big banks.

William O’Malley, the 18-year-old son of the governor, spent all of his free time and high school breaks in Iowa campaigning for his father. When announcing him, the candidate introduced his son to the media as “The Closer” of the campaign.

“I’ve been knocking doors, making phone calls and trying to get the good people of Iowa to learn more about my dad,” William said. “It’s been such a great opportunity and amazing experience.”

Tara O’Malley, 23, the governor’s second-born, said that no matter how it ended, it had been a rewarding time for the O’Malley family and a chance to spend more time together.

“It was a great way to bond with our dad. Some of my favorite memories were just driving from event to event with him and adding members of the staff to our family,” Tara said. “It truly was a very family-oriented campaign and it made it all the more fun.”

Standing outside his office, O’Malley was asked what, if anything, he wished he’d done differently throughout the campaign thus far.

“I wish I had raised $5 million more dollars,” he answered with a laugh, and members of the audience laughed along with him.

That same morning, it was reported that the O’Malley campaign was  struggling to stay afloat financially. O’Malley took out a $500,000 loan in December and ended the year with $170,000 cash on hand. Senior staffers went unpaid.

During the final quarter of 2015, the O’Malley campaign reported receipts of $1.5 million, including the loan, compared with $37 million for Clinton and $33.6 million for Sanders.

Campaign spokeswoman Haley Morris said that O’Malley has received $900,000 in federal matching fund payments since Jan. 1, which were not reflected on the Q4 report, and that the $500,000 loan had been paid off in full as a result.

With O’Malley now out of the race, all eyes are turning to the increasingly heated battle between Clinton and Sanders, and the lingering question of whether O’Malley will endorse one of them as the nomination battle continues without him.

Photo at top: Martin O’Malley greets supporters at a canvass launch in Des Moines on Monday. (Caroline Kenny/MEDILL)