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Republican Presidential Hopefuls Burn Through Cash to Shrink Trump’s Huge Lead

Trump is the clear frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination, with about 59 percent support among Republican voters.

Republican presidential candidates participate in the first debate of the GOP primary season, hosted by FOX News at the Fiserv Forum, on August 23, 2023, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Republican presidential hopefuls are burning through cash in attempts to shrink former President Donald Trump’s significant lead in the polls, with three months until the first caucus in Iowa on Jan. 15.

Burn rate is the amount candidates spend relative to the amount they raise. Candidates must find the balance between spending early, to establish their brand and gain a following, and preparing for the looming cost of campaigning once voters begin casting their ballots.

Candidates also face the added challenge of meeting the Republican National Committee’s polling and donor thresholds to attend the primary debates. For the next debate, hosted by NBC News on Nov. 8, candidates must have at least 70,000 individual donors and hit 4% in either two national polls or one national poll and two polls from different early-voting states.

Trump is the clear front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination — leading in fundraising as well as in the polls. A FiveThirtyEight polling average shows the former president at 59% and his closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, at 13%, as of Nov. 2.

Trump also has one of the lowest burn rates among candidates, having spent only 36% of his mammoth $53.7 million in contributions. A low burn rate might indicate that Trump is relying on existing support to sustain his campaign in these early stages of the election and that he is hoarding cash to fund more intensive campaigning once voting begins.

While Trump easily met the RNC’s polling and donor requirements, he has not attended any debates, nor has he indicated that he will on Nov. 8. He is relying instead on rallies and “backroom politics” to secure the nomination.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) also met the thresholds at the time of publication.

While DeSantis has consistently polled in second place, his support has gradually declined, dropping from a high of 35% on Jan. 22 to 13% on Nov. 2, according to FiveThirtyEight. In an attempt to claw back favor with Republican voters, and make gains on Trump, DeSantis has burned through 60% of his $31.2 million in contributions. The Florida governor’s high burn rate, however, has put him on shaky ground with the wealthy donors buoying his campaign.

Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has spent 38% of her $18.6 million war chest, most of which, like DeSantis, came from large donors contributing more than $200 to her campaign. While the GOP hopeful has crept up in the polls, she still sits at around 8%, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, currently polling around 5%, has drained 84% of the $26.6 million he raised. He ended September with $4.2 million in his campaign account, about a third of the amount held by either DeSantis ($12.3 million) or Haley ($11.6 million) at that time.

However, Ramaswamy’s campaign may stay afloat only as long as he is willing to fund it. He has already invested over $17 million of his personal fortune into the campaign and previously claimed that he is willing to spend as much as $100 million.

Christie enters the final months before voting begins with $3.9 million on hand. While Christie raised a slim $5.4 million, his burn rate is 28% — the lowest of any major candidate. Christie, who has staked his candidacy on New Hampshire, will need the cash he has stockpiled if he hopes to win the state where his support is at 9% as of Oct. 30.

Scott has the highest burn rate of any major presidential candidate, having spent 172% of the $11.7 million his campaign brought in, seemingly contradictory figures made possible by the fact that he poured cash leftover from his 2022 Senate campaign into his presidential bid. The long-shot candidate has $13.3 million left in his account, making his the second richest campaign among GOP hopefuls, second only to Trump. Despite a cashed-up campaign, Scott is polling at 2% according to FiveThirtyEight and only met the RNC polling threshold eight days before the debate by citing national polls conducted by YouGov and The Liberal Patriot.

The RNC requirements are proving more of a challenge for some Republican presidential hopefuls. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson have yet to qualify for the upcoming debate.

Burgum, like Ramaswamy, is running a self-funded campaign, with 80% of his $15.2 million in contributions coming from personal loans. Although it is questionable whether Burgum’s investment has paid off. Even with a burn rate of 85%, he has yet to meet the polling thresholds for this month’s debate. His campaign concerns became apparent earlier this year when he began offering $20 gift cards for $1 donations, an unorthodox strategy he relaunched in October in a scramble to meet RNC donor requirements.

Hutchinson, who did not meet the polling requirement for the second presidential debate, is also falling short of the thresholds for the upcoming debate. The long-shot candidate, currently polling at 0.6%, raised $1.3 million through the end of September, the least of any major 2024 presidential candidate. With a burn rate of 74%, Hutchinson ended September with $325,000 cash on hand — again, the least of any major GOP candidate.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who announced on Oct. 28 that he was dropping out of the presidential race, also failed to meet RNC requirements before calling it quits.

Pence’s presidential campaign raised $4.5 million through the end of September. His small war chest, in combination with a high burn rate of 74%, left him with only $1.2 million cash on hand.

On the Democratic side, President Joe Biden spent 31% of the $44.4 million he raised through the third quarter of 2023. With $32.2 million cash left on hand as of the end of September, Biden’s campaign is well-positioned to go head-to-head with the Republican nominee in 2024.

Long-shot Democratic challenger Marianne Williamson has one of the lowest amounts of campaign contributions and has the highest burn rate of any major candidate, having drained 96% of the $2.5 million she brought in. With only $101,000 left in her campaign account, Williamson may be on her last legs.

Robert Kennedy Jr., who dropped his Democratic bid to run as an independent candidate and has faced criticism for embracing conspiracy theories, has burned through 58% of the $14.8 million his campaign raised. With $6.2 million left in his account, Kennedy is apparently campaigning with the long-term in mind and stirring anxiety in the pro-Trump GOP due to the clear Republican lean in his large-dollar donor base.

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