CNN
Now playing
01:33
See Beto O'Rourke speak after dropping out of 2020 race
CNN
Now playing
02:42
'This is insane': GOP Arizona county official slams election 'audit'
FLINT, MI - OCTOBER 31: Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a drive-in campaign rally for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at Northwestern High School on October 31, 2020 in Flint, Michigan. Biden is campaigning with former President Obama on Saturday in Michigan, a battleground state that President Donald Trump narrowly won in 2016. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
FLINT, MI - OCTOBER 31: Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a drive-in campaign rally for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at Northwestern High School on October 31, 2020 in Flint, Michigan. Biden is campaigning with former President Obama on Saturday in Michigan, a battleground state that President Donald Trump narrowly won in 2016. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:54
Obama slams GOP's opposition to voting reform
CNN
Now playing
02:39
NY candidate says he's joining forces with his opponent. Here's why
Now playing
03:36
They stood up to Trump's lies and now are losing their jobs
Now playing
02:34
Schumer on infrastructure talks: We need big, bold change
CNN
Now playing
03:14
This family's lives will be changed by the child tax credit
CNN
Now playing
02:46
Toobin on Supreme Court ruling: I was struck by Kavanaugh's opinion
Getty Images
Now playing
02:47
Enten: Straw poll of GOP activists rates DeSantis over Trump
jake sullivan russia sanctions bash sotu vpx_00000000.png
jake sullivan russia sanctions bash sotu vpx_00000000.png
Now playing
01:48
Sullivan: US preparing more Russia sanctions over Navalny poisoning
cnn/getty images
Now playing
01:55
Sanders won't say if he'll support Manchin's voting rights compromise
President Joe Biden speaks about reaching 300 million COVID-19 vaccination shots, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, June 18, 2021, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP
President Joe Biden speaks about reaching 300 million COVID-19 vaccination shots, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, June 18, 2021, in Washington.
Now playing
01:31
'A private matter': Biden on US Catholic bishops' potential rebuke
Critical Race Theory
KSDK
Critical Race Theory
Now playing
04:39
Mom gets emotional during heated forum on critical race theory
FILE - This June 8, 2021 file photo shows the Supreme Court building in Washington. A Thursday, June 17, 2021 Supreme Court ruling that favored Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia was far from the constitutional gale wind that would have reshaped how courts interpret religious liberty under the First Amendment. Governmental entities are now on notice that if they want to ban discrimination against LGBTQ persons or anyone else, they had better not allow for any exceptions -- or else religious groups will have the right to ask for them, and they'll have a strong case for getting them. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
FILE - This June 8, 2021 file photo shows the Supreme Court building in Washington. A Thursday, June 17, 2021 Supreme Court ruling that favored Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia was far from the constitutional gale wind that would have reshaped how courts interpret religious liberty under the First Amendment. Governmental entities are now on notice that if they want to ban discrimination against LGBTQ persons or anyone else, they had better not allow for any exceptions -- or else religious groups will have the right to ask for them, and they'll have a strong case for getting them. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Now playing
03:32
Obamacare has survived over 2,000 attempts to kill it
mike pence heckled at conservative conference vpx _00000918.png
CNN
mike pence heckled at conservative conference vpx _00000918.png
Now playing
02:21
Mike Pence heckled at conservative conference
This Morning
Now playing
03:22
Ted Cruz: Critical race theory is as racist as Klansmen
CNN —  

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas ended his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination on Friday, telling supporters he couldn’t raise enough money to remain competitive with his party’s leading 2020 contenders.

He announced his exit hours before Iowa Democrats began their biggest evening of the year with most of the party’s presidential field set to speak at the packed Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines for the Liberty and Justice Celebration.

“We have to clearly see at this point that we do not have means to pursue this campaign successfully,” he told disappointed supporters – some of whom had traveled from out of state to see him – at what had been planned as a pre-event rally.

It was a quiet end to a campaign that had begun with high expectations. O’Rourke had been encouraged late last year in a private meeting with former President Barack Obama. He’d been lauded by Oprah Winfrey in an interview before his entrance. He appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair the day before he officially became a candidate. And he raised $6 million on the first day of his campaign.

O’Rourke made his decision to drop out this week, under the pressure of lagging fundraising.

His top advisers had concluded that his fundraising pace meant he’d have to slash spending – likely meaning major staff cuts – in order to pay for the advertising he’d need to get the small boost required to qualify for the debate stage in November. O’Rourke raised just $4.5 million in 2019’s third quarter and ended it with just $3 million cash on hand.

O’Rourke’s recent fundraising emails have hinted at this possibility. One sent Wednesday said that raising money was critical to “making sure we don’t have to slash funds from our organizing teams or early state ads (these programs are critical to building our momentum on the ground).”

His campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, informed a small group of senior staffers of his decision Thursday morning. Then O’Rourke told his full team in an all-staff call Friday afternoon.

In Des Moines, organizers were pulling up “Beto” signs before a night in which many had hoped to see him deliver a breakout speech. Stunned supporters held back tears as they waited for O’Rourke to arrive.

Frankie Farmer, a 78-year-old retiree, had traveled from her home in Virginia Beach, Virginia, “just for this.”

“Pretty devastated, actually,” she said. “I felt and still feel that he was the strongest candidate to take out this administration. He was unconventional, and it’s an unconventional administration.”

“And,” she said, pointing to his potential to win his home state’s 38 electoral votes, “Texas! Damn – Texas!”

Her friend Louise Ware, a 74-year-old retiree from Austin, Texas, said she blames the national media for O’Rourke’s candidacy fizzling. She said she thought the coverage of him was punitive over O’Rourke deciding to hold weeks of town halls before accepting national television interview requests.

“That’s the way he works, and they didn’t understand it. They wanted him on TV right away, and he wouldn’t do it,” she said.

Brian Hardwick, who was Al Gore’s national finance director and had traveled from Atlanta to hear O’Rourke speak, said he was “stunned.”

“I had a whole career in politics but nobody ever got me out to Iowa – until this guy,” he said of O’Rourke.

O’Rourke told supporters in an email that he will not run for office next year. That means he won’t become a Senate candidate from Texas, despite pleas from some Democrats for him to take on Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

In his short speech Friday evening, O’Rourke pledged to support the eventual Democratic presidential nominee.

“Though this is the end of this campaign, we are right in the middle of this fight. I will do everything that I can to support the eventual nominee of this party with everything that I’ve got, and I encourage every single one of you to do the same,” he said. “I will still be part of all the causes that brought us here together in the first place, whether it is ending gun violence or confronting climate change before it is too late or addressing the structural racism in America or making sure this economy works for every single one of us. I will still be part of the fight.”

O’Rourke’s campaign changed gears drastically in August, following the mass shooting that left 22 dead at a Walmart in his hometown of El Paso.

O’Rourke paused his campaign for nearly two weeks, then returned as a strident advocate for gun control measures – including mandatory buybacks of assault-style rifles. He made waves in a debate by saying, “Hell, yes,” he would take away Americans’ AK-47s and AR-15s.

His position led to criticism from Democrats in Washington, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. But it also injected energy – and a central cause – into his flagging campaign.

Still, that momentum wasn’t enough to carry him in a crowded Democratic field, with voters already narrowing their lists of candidates to consider.

O’Rourke’s former Democratic rivals praised him on Twitter on Friday, saying they appreciated his commitment to the issue of gun violence.

“Your commitment to ending gun violence and uplifting the voices of the victims and their families has made this presidential race—and our country—stronger,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts tweeted.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said O’Rourke had faced tragedy in his hometown and “responded with compassion and leadership, looking into the eyes of people who just lost loved ones and pledging his total resolve. His passion for solving our gun crisis has been inspiring to anyone who has seen him.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont thanked O’Rourke “for running a campaign to bring millions of people together, fight for justice for all and end gun violence in America. We are grateful for your leadership.”

CNN’s Kate Sullivan and Dan Merica contributed to this report.