The also-rans are starting to run.
Lincoln Chafee has now bailed out of the presidential race, following fellow Democrat Jim Webb by a few days. That leaves a total of 17 major candidates left in the running: 14 Republicans and three Democrats. Even Jeb Bush, scion of the Republican establishment, is starting to feel the heat, with his campaign slashing payroll by 40% and taking other measures to cut spending by at least $1 million per month, according to Bloomberg.
Bush's streamlined campaign will still have plenty of cash to keep on fighting, but many other candidates won't. A Yahoo Finance analysis of fund-raising data suggests at least five other candidates are running short of the money required to stay in the race: Democrat Martin O’Malley and Republicans George Pataki, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee. Others, such as Republicans Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich, may simply find the cost of staying in is too high, given diminishing prospects.
Each of the five most endangered candidates had less than $1 million in their campaign bank account as of Sept. 30, a threshold below which it’s difficult to run a proper campaign. We used $1 million as our cutoff because that’s roughly how much cash the campaign of Scott Walker had on hand when he decided to call it quits in September. A candidate can stay in the race with less, but only with a skeleton staff and little or no actual campaigning. And funding inevitably dwindles to nothing once donors notice you're mailing it in.
Here’s a tally of campaign fundraising as of Sept. 30, with endangered candidates highlighted in yellow and dropouts scratched out:
Other types of funding can extend the life of a campaign, most notably super PACs—the outside spending groups that can collect unlimited amounts of money from wealthy donors and conduct certain types of activities on behalf of favored candidates.
A few of the endangered candidates have at least one wealthy backer willing to fund a super PAC supporting the candidate. Mike Huckabee’s super PAC, for instance, has received at least $3 million from agribusiness magnate Ronald Cameron. Wealthy investor Foster Friess has pledged to back Rick Santorum’s super PAC, as he did during the 2012 presidential race. Bobby Jindal’s super PAC has raised at least $3.7 million from a variety of donors, about two-thirds of them from Louisiana, where Jindal is governor.
Super PACs are allowed to run ads on behalf of the favored candidate (or against that candidate’s opponents) and do other things to help. That can help extend the life of an otherwise-underfunded campaign. But super PACs can’t cover direct campaign costs such as office rent, staff pay, travel expenses and the many administrative costs of running for office. That can leave a campaign ad-rich yet still short of the money needed to actually win.
A few candidates benefit from a natural ability to generate free media attention, another factor that can keep a campaign going. The ever-controversial Donald Trump obviously falls into this category, as do people like Lindsey Graham—a sitting senator who comments frequently on national security and other newsy topics—and Mike Huckabee, a favorite of evangelicals who’s skilled at capitalizing on news events touching on issues of morality.
The goal of most candidates is to stay in the limelight through the primary elections, which begin next February. But in the end, of course, there can only be one candidate left standing in each party, which means most of those running for president are fighting to be remembered not for winning, but for merely demonstrating stamina.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.