Charlie Harper: GOP Starts to Narrow Presidential Field

Charlie Harper

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

While November 2016 still seems like it’s far away, deadlines and other pressures begin now that will likely winnow the field into a smaller group. The large field of Republicans has already officially dwindled by one. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has “suspended” his campaign, all but ending his second try to the nation’s highest office.

When looking at how the race is developing it is important to remember that we don’t have a “national primary”. As such, each state has different qualifying rules and restrictions (not to mention methods of voting, such as Iowa’s caucus system). The first deadline to appear on a Republican primary ballot is September 30th in our neighboring state of South Carolina. Some may opt out.

What is somewhat unique about South Carolina is its relatively high qualifying fee. To appear on South Carolina’s February 20th ballot, candidates have roughly a week to pay $40,000. While this is a relatively trivial amount to some who have been able to raise tens of millions or claim their net worth into the billions, there are quite a few who have raised little money, have gained almost no traction in the polls, and will have to decide if they can truly justify the expense.

If you’re going to look for those most likely to have “news pending” before the end of the month, consider first the plight of former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore. While still a declared candidate, he didn’t even meet the minimum standards required to be in the 2nd tier undercard debate on CNN.

Former New York Governor George Pataki isn’t faring much better, as he’s not currently included in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. If Gilmore and Pataki were to end their campaign in a forest with no one around to hear the announcement, did their campaigns even happen?

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum entered this race with just under a half million dollars of debt remaining from his 2012 contest. He has a .8% standing in the RCP average and the fact that he isn’t included in South Carolina’s average show he may extend his winless streak that dates back to 2006. Santorum decided to extend his long shot status a bit longer and paid his fee while in the state to attend the Heritage Action Forum last Friday.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has generated a good bit of free media by directly attacking Donald Trump, but that hasn’t yet translated into poll numbers. He’s currently at .7% in the polls in South Carolina and .3% nationally. Jindal still wants to keep his options open, however, and also qualified for South Carolina last Friday.

The person that has to be considering the South Carolina qualifying decision most personally is their Senior Senator Lindsey Graham. He entered the race a long shot at best, with many insiders believing his goal was to hold his statewide machine together in order to eventually withdraw and broker a deal for the candidate of his choice to build momentum coming out of New Hampshire. He is polling at 0.0% in the RCP national average and at just 4% locally. Graham paid his fee on September 1st. Right now staying in means he’s preserving 6th place in his home state.

Other candidates such as Chris Christie Scott Walker and John Kasich are also well below 3% in the RCP national average. Kasich, however, is currently polling third in New Hampshire and has qualified in SC to ensure he has a possible path to take that momentum toward the March 1 “SEC” primary when this race goes to a more national footprint. Christie continues to be able to pull significant national media attention and will thus likely be able to hang out a while and see if fortunes improve.

Walker, who had been near the top of national polls early now sees what it’s like when he gets little attention. CNN barely called on him during their debate, left him off of a post-debate graphic entirely, and a CNN poll out Sunday morning showed less than ½ of 1% support. There’s probably some soul searching in the Walker camp, but it will likely result in reassurances that John McCain once went from scaling back a national campaign on the way to the nomination. South Carolina & Iowa will receive his focus as he seeks to regain his earlier momentum.

Some winnowing of the field would be a good thing for the GOP at this point. Currently, there are 8 current or former Governors, 5 Current or former US Senators, and three others to choose from. It’s a sign of the time that those three “others” occupied the top 3 spots in the CNN poll. Thus some “experience” will likely continue to give way to the GOP’s version of “Hope & Change” during the next phase of this nomination process.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government;