Republican field set to shrink as cash dries up

Six who spent more than they raised in third quarter may have to quit presidential race

NEW YORK • Half a dozen Republican presidential candidates are edging towards financial crisis, raising the spectre that some may be forced to drop out of the sprawling field of contenders.

They all spent more than they took in during the third quarter, according to campaign finance reports. The six are Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former New York governor George Pataki, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

They raised US$6 million (S$8.3 million)in total but spent more than US$9.5 million during the summer on everything from postage to travel to campaign rallies.

All six are trailing badly in the opinion polls. "They are living on the edge," said Mr Lawrence Noble, former general counsel to the Federal Election Commission.

"We are getting close to the time when a lot of these candidates are going to say 'We can't do it, it can't be done'," said Mr Noble, now a senior attorney with the Campaign Legal Centre.

Campaigns have tipping points: the moment when a candidate does the maths and realises he does not have enough money on hand or the prospect of more money from donors to stay in the race.

One telling sign is the "burn rate" - jargon for how much a candidate spends versus how much he is raising. If the rate is high and donor enthusiasm low, then trouble ensues.

When direct donations are lacklustre, there may not be enough money to cover basic campaign expenses like travel, staff salaries and office equipment. Those costs are not covered by Super PACs, independent political committees which, unlike candidates' campaigns, can raise unlimited sums from any donor.

Mr Paul and Mr Graham have the most money in the bank, with US$2.1 million and US$1.7 million respectively; the rest are strapped. Mr Pataki had less than US$14,000 on hand as of Sept 30, less than the US$17,600 billionaire candidate Donald Trump spent on yard signs in the third quarter alone.

To be sure, tight budgets at this point in the race do not mean the campaigns are doomed. A candidate could have a breakout moment, like former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, whose fund-raising soared after a good debate performance. Candidates can also lend themselves money, as Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton did when she ran low during the 2008 White House race.

But the Republican candidates face another problem: There are 14 of them vying for party nomination for the November 2016 election.

"The Republican field is way too large, there simply isn't enough money to go around," said Mr Noble.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2015, with the headline 'Republican field set to shrink as cash dries up'. Print Edition | Subscribe