- Tim Scott, Chris Christie, and Doug Burgum face low single-digit polling nationally.
- Asa Hutchinson failed to qualify for a recent debate, while others are on the brink.
- Third-quarter fundraising deadline and stricter debate criteria are threatening lower-polling contenders.
The Republican primary race is heating up, and it’s time for a reckoning. Candidates like Tim Scott, Chris Christie, and Doug Burgum are languishing with low single-digit poll numbers nationwide. Meanwhile, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson couldn’t even qualify for a recent debate. This is just the tip of the iceberg as the GOP primary hurtles toward a critical juncture.
Two ominous hurdles loom large for these lower-polling contenders. Firstly, there’s the impending third-quarter fundraising deadline, a vital measure of a candidate’s endurance. Secondly, candidates must meet more stringent requirements to participate in future debates. Both of these factors have historically spelled doom for campaigns.
Adding fuel to the fire, the influential Koch network is poised to throw its weight behind one of former President Donald Trump’s rivals. The timing, sometime after mid-October and before the holidays, promises to reshape the dynamics of the race. With its extensive network, data operation, and potentially vast financial support, the Koch network can either make or break a candidate.
Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who dropped out of the 2016 presidential race eight years ago, sees a storm on the horizon for struggling contenders. “I think there’s going to be a massive drop-off in the next few months in terms of support,” he predicts. It’s a warning that can’t be ignored.
The first debate failed to move the needle in public opinion polls, leaving a significant number of candidates far behind Trump. With Trump’s likely absence in the upcoming debate, candidates who pinned their hopes on standout performances face increasing pressure to exit the race.
Republican strategist Alex Conant, unaffiliated in the current contest, emphasizes the looming importance of the third-quarter filing deadline. “The third quarter filing deadline could be devastating for some candidates,” Conant warns. Candidates must show real growth and secure hard dollars to remain competitive, or they face an existential crisis.
The Republican National Committee recently announced the requirements for the third debate. While Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have already qualified, former Vice President Mike Pence has yet to confirm his qualification based on the donor threshold. Everyone else remains on the bubble, signifying that a purge of candidates is long overdue.
This pressure on lower-polling contenders to bow out is more intense than in previous years. The scars of 2016 remain fresh in Republican memory, where a crowded field ultimately handed the nomination to Trump. Moreover, the 2024 primary season starts earlier than ever, with the Iowa caucuses set for January 15, 2024, compared to February 1 in 2016.
Trump’s dominance is evident in early state and national surveys, where he leads by as much as 35 points. Unlike earlier in the year, Trump’s legal troubles no longer pose a threat to his frontrunner status. Veteran Iowa Republican strategist David Kochel dismisses the notion of Trump facing convictions before the November 2024 election. It’s a testament to Trump’s resilience.
So far, only Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has suspended his campaign, bowing out after failing to qualify for the first debate. The Koch network has yet to make an endorsement decision, leaving the field open for contenders.
While several candidates have substantial super PAC support or personal wealth to prolong their campaigns, none are willing to throw in the towel. They are determined to forge ahead, hoping for a turnaround akin to the remarkable rise of Barack Obama in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, despite lagging significantly in polling.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s strategy is clear: hold on, shine in the Iowa caucuses, and win over the supporters of candidates who drop out. A “natural winnowing down” is expected, with supporters gravitating toward viable candidates.
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott benefits from substantial super PAC support, with a staggering $37 million already spent or reserved for ads ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Scott’s campaign remains unwavering in its long-term strategy, undeterred by individual debates or polls.
Similarly, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s campaign adheres to its intended course. Haley’s campaign, launched in mid-February, initially avoided spending money on TV ads, a strategy that has shifted. After a prolonged struggle to gain traction, the first debate finally gave Haley her moment in the spotlight.
While the path ahead may seem challenging, the candidates have different visions. Scott, for example, benefits from substantial support, while Haley is banking on momentum to close the gap. It remains a tough road for candidates like Pence, Christie, Hutchinson, and Burgum, with polling averages in Iowa below 3 percent.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is committed to staying in the race until the New Hampshire primary. However, the outlook for those running as “Trump Lite” is uncertain.
Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor who failed to qualify for a recent debate, remains hopeful. His goal is to increase his polling numbers to 4 percent in an early state before Thanksgiving to stay competitive.
As the race tightens, candidates must navigate these treacherous waters, making strategic decisions about their campaigns’ future. While some argue that candidates should stay in the race as long as they can raise funds, the shadow of Trump looms large.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who participated in the 2016 GOP primary, offers a pragmatic perspective. He believes candidates should stay in the race as long as they have the means to do so. However, he sees little chance of anyone but Trump securing the nomination.
In the end, the 2024 Republican primary is a high-stakes battleground. Those critical of Trump face an imperative to exit, but the competition is fierce. In this volatile political landscape, candidates must tread carefully to survive and succeed. As former Governor Scott Walker quipped, “I got out before I got a nickname,” highlighting the unforgiving nature of the political arena.
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