On the Trail: Time for the 2024 field to shrink?

By PAUL STEINHAUSER

For the Monitor

Published: 09-30-2023 10:30 AM

Gov. Chris Sununu has been saying for months that the field in the Republican presidential nomination race needs to winnow down.

“If you don’t make the first couple of debates, then you probably have to have a tough conversation and get out of the race,” the popular GOP governor who’s playing an influential role in the Republican presidential primary race told this reporter over the summer.

So far, only one White House hopeful has called it quits.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez suspended his campaign after failing to make the stage at last month’s first Republican presidential nomination debate, a showdown in Milwaukee Wisconsin.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the only one of the eight candidates on the stage at the first debate who failed to qualify for Wednesday’s second debate – which was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California – says if he fails to make the stage at the third GOP presidential nomination debate, he’ll consider dropping out.

“If I don’t make that, we’ll reevaluate where we are,” Hutchinson told reporters this week as he referred to the third debate, which will be held Nov. 8 in Miami, Florida.

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When asked for clarification if his response meant he would consider dropping out, Hutchinson answered, “Sure.”

Michigan businessman and quality control industry expert Perry Johnson - who failed to qualify for the first two debates – is now mulling a pivot to run for the open Senate seat in his home state.

“Obviously, it’s no secret that I’ve had a lot of calls to run for this seat because they do want to win this seat. But at this point in time, my focus is right on the presidential [race], and, believe me, that’s taking all my time and energy at this point,” Johnson told this reporter on Thursday.

Former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, who previously served as an undercover agent in the CIA, also didn’t make the stage at the first two debates.

“My team and I are constantly evaluating whether we have the resources to chart a path to victory,” he wrote in a statement this week. “I’m headed to New Hampshire to spread my message to the Granite State ahead of the First In the Nation primary. Educating voters on how to solve these existential issues is important, and hopefully other candidates will follow my lead.”

Larry Elder, a former nationally syndicated radio host who was a candidate in California’s 2021 gubernatorial recall election, also failed to qualify for the first two debates.

Former President Donald Trump skipped the first two debates as he pointed to his commanding lead in the GOP presidential nomination race and said this week he won’t attend the third debate.

Sununu, a vocal Trump critic who seriously mulled a GOP presidential run of his own before deciding against it in June, envisions a smaller field by the end of the year, just ahead of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, the first two contests in the Republican nominating calendar.

“I think by the time you get to the end of December, you’ll have five or six different candidates going into Iowa, maybe three or four coming into New Hampshire,” Sununu predicted. “If that’s the case, a huge opportunity for the Republican Party.”

Candidate traffic

With the second debate over, former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who’s once again concentrating on New Hampshire as he makes his second bid for the GOP presidential nomination, headlines a town hall Friday evening in Keene.

Hurd returns to New Hampshire on Sunday.

Longshot Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson heads back to New Hampshire on Sunday, for four straight days of campaigning.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party holds its 2023 convention on Saturday in Bedford.

First-term Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania will serve as keynote speaker, sparking speculation that a White House run may be in his future in the 2028 election cycle or beyond.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cindy Warmington, the two major Democratic candidates for governor, will also address the crowd.

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