Kansas Leadership Center CEO and former Republican state Rep. Ed O’Malley left the race for Kansas governor Thursday, citing struggles to raise enough funds.

O’Malley launched an exploratory campaign a year ago and announced he would enter the race in October, promising a “better way” and a unifying tone. He “reluctantly” ended his campaign in a statement.

“We have created the largest, widest grassroots support of any of the current candidates. I will never forget those who have been a part of that effort,” O’Malley said. “Nevertheless, I have realized that the funding necessary to remain competitive through August and then November is beyond our reach.”

O’Malley claimed his campaign “made listening cool” and inspired other candidates to do the same, an apparent reference to Gov. Jeff Colyer’s promise to listen, serve and lead. O’Malley has repeatedly praised centrist politics.

“Neither political party knows exactly how to solve our toughest problems,” O’Malley said. “That’s why we need elected officials with the wisdom and skill to bring people together, the willingness to truly listen to differing perspectives and the courage to chart new ways forward.”

He’s the first candidate to announce a departure from the crowded gubernatorial race.

“I am thankful for so many supporters giving so much to this journey,” O’Malley said. “Their commitment to our state didn’t begin or end with this campaign. We will find ways to continue to work together to create a better Kansas.”

The Republican primary race was already crowded when O’Malley entered. He joined now-Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, former Sen. Jim Barnett, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman, former Rep. Mark Hutton and three high school students.

Hutton said in a statement politics needs more leaders like O’Malley.

“He has an important voice on this stage. I know he’ll use it,” Hutton said. “Whomever the next governor is would be wise to listen to him.”

O’Malley said it was a “great honor” to run his campaign.

“I know many supporters will be disappointed. I am, too,” O’Malley said. “I cannot help but feel as if I have let so many people down. Yet, the flip side of our shared optimism for the future of Kansas has to be brutal realism about what it will take to get there.”