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The GOP Field Is Unlikely to Get Smaller For A While

Earlier today Nicco Mele posted an interesting piece on the 7 Reasons Why Trump Will Win. It spurred a Facebook discussion with several operatives discussing the ways this election cycle represents a fundamental shift in American elections.  In that discussion I made this point:

Five of the dozen serious candidates [on the GOP side] actually have significant funding, and significant PAC funding behind that… So there is almost no reason for any of them to drop out before IA and NH, and possibly until Super Tuesday.

A couple of them asked me to elaborate on that in longer form, so here it is.

As of the September 30 fundraising deadline, Cruz, Carson, Rubio, and Bush collectively had $46 million cash on hand (Cruz – $13.8MM, Carson – $11.3MM, Rubio – $11MM, and Bush – $10.3MM). Donald Trump, the current GOP frontrunner, looks dismal on paper. His fundraising in Q3 shows a net loss, a debt of $.18MM, and cash on hand of only $255k. That number belies his actual funding, however, as he has claimed he will spend whatever it takes, and his campaign manager suggested he may spend $20 million on TV by the end of the year. Campaign fundraising is only a small part of the picture, however.

PACs supporting the top tier of GOP candidates have significant resources available. The PAC supporting Bush had $98 million on hand followed by $37.5MM for Cruz, $16.5MM for Rubio, $11.4MM for Chris Christie. This creates a situation that is relatively unheard of in American primary politics with a pool of six candidates that are likely to be competitive into Super Tuesday when 12 states hold their primaries.  The lower tier of candidates – including Kasich, Paul, Fiorina, and even Graham – will likely stay in through Iowa and New Hampshire. As a result, you are unlikely to see a significant thinning of the herd before mid-February.

When you further consider that state-by-state polls are actually fairly volatile – with Carson, Cruz, Rubio and Bush all in the hunt for second place – a Trump meltdown similar to the one that killed Howard Dean’s campaign could actually create a wide open fight. As a result, it is unlikely that tier of candidates will drop out. In 2008, with a much smaller pool of candidates, only one serious contender stayed in the race past January. In 2016, it is possible that as many as eight – Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Bush, Christie, Paul and Kasich  – may be in it until March. That represents a fundamental shift in the campaign calculus.

There are five dates remaining in the schedule of sanctioned GOP debates, but three of those don’t come until February. That leaves little opportunity for the lower-tier to make a name for themselves. Polling, however, has been notoriously sketchy of late, and many campaign supporters may simply refuse to believe their guy is out. Between PAC fundraising and campaign dollars, the money could continue to flow as long as campaigns can make an argument that they will be competitive in states like Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas or Virginia.

Its unclear that this election will fundamentally change the math of campaigns going forward, but at least for 2016, we may be seeing more candidates in the hunt for longer than has been the case for decades.

Written by Turk