The long-shot presidential campaign of former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley suffered another setback Thursday when officials in Ohio said he had failed to submit enough valid signatures to appear on the state's Democratic primary ballot in March.
O'Malley submitted 1,175 signatures to the Ohio secretary of state, 175 more than required for ballot access. But officials determined only 772 of the signatures were valid, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state said.
Meanwhile, retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson's campaign for the Republican nomination hit another rough spot Thursday with the abrupt resignations of his campaign manager and his chief spokesman.
Barry Bennett, a well-known GOP operative who had been with the Carson campaign since it launched in May, and Doug Watts, a longtime communications hand who was hired in March, quit amid campaign turmoil.
Carson's outsider candidacy hurtled him briefly to the front of the crowded Republican field, but he has slipped both nationally and in early primary states after statements that caused some to question his grasp of foreign policy.
For O'Malley, failure to secure a spot on Ohio's ballot is a grim milestone in an underdog campaign that still is waiting for a breakout moment with just a month left before primary voting begins.
"It's a disaster for him, obviously," said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
"But let's not oversell it," Sabato continued. "I don't know anyone who takes Martin O'Malley's candidacy seriously at this point. He was long ago eclipsed by Bernie Sanders as Hillary Clinton's main challenger. He's done nothing to change that."
Despite debate performances widely viewed as credible and an issue-focused campaign that has given him the opportunity to argue that he's been ahead of the field on immigration, financial regulation and education, O'Malley has failed to poll beyond 10 percent anywhere.
In that sense, it's not clear missing the ballot in Ohio will have a practical impact on his campaign or on the larger race.
O'Malley has been polling in single digits in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, with the exception of a single poll in December that put him at 10 points in Iowa.
By the time Ohio voters go to the polls March 15, Democrats will have competed in nearly half of the states.
"Our campaign filed nearly 1,200 signatures for the Ohio ballot," O'Malley spokeswoman Haley Morris said in a statement. "While this news is disappointing, we are exploring all of our options, and Governor O'Malley will campaign vigorously in Ohio. To date, he is already on the ballot in 18 other states."
Ohio officials said that O'Malley has no way to get on the primary ballot there because the deadline for submitting signatures passed on Dec. 16. But a Democratic strategist unaffiliated with the campaign said O'Malley still could pick up Ohio delegates if another candidate dropped out.
If O'Malley managed surprise wins in New Hampshire and Iowa and was chasing Clinton, he wouldn't need to be on the ballot in Ohio, said veteran Democratic campaign operative Joe Trippi. Delegates who were pledged to another candidate could back O'Malley instead.
"It's unlikely he's going to take off, but if he does, that's not an unsurmountable problem," Trippi said. "This game's been played before. This is a problem that has happened many, many, many times. If you're in it, there are a ways to get around the problem."
Trippi pointed to former Sen. Gary Hart, an O'Malley mentor whose unexpected leap to front-runner in the 1984 Democratic primary race the former governor has tried to use as a road map for his own run.
After Hart won by 10 percentage points in New Hampshire, he moved aggressively to collect delegates pledged to candidates who dropped out, often in states where Hart had never filed to be on the ballot. Hart ultimately lost the nomination to former Vice President Walter Mondale.
An O'Malley spokeswoman confirmed this was among the options the campaign was exploring. But O'Malley has lagged so far behind Clinton and Sanders in fundraising that it remains unclear whether his campaign operation will survive past the early primaries in February.
Clinton, the front-runner, is expected to top the $100 million fundraising goal her campaign set this year, according to an analysis by CNN. Sanders has trailed Clinton in fundraising but has amassed a wide donor base. Sanders raised $26.2 million during the year's third quarter, when Clinton raised $30 million, and in December surpassed President Barack Obama's 2011 record of collecting 2.2 million donations.
O'Malley has raised a small fraction of his rivals' haul. His campaign brought in $1.3 million in the third quarter and was spending more than it was taking in.
The former governor made political headlines this week when a campaign event in Iowa — held during a snowstorm — drew just one attendee. That voter remained uncommitted.
"O'Malley, he's got some supporters, but he hasn't really bowled anyone over," Sabato said.
The Carson campaign released a statement announcing Ed Brookover, a senior strategist for the campaign, would take over as manager. The campaign also said retired Army Maj. Gen. Bob Dees would serve as chairman.
In a statement, the Carson campaign described the moves as "enhancements, which will shift the campaign into a higher gear."