Who’s in, who’s out: A look at which candidates have qualified for the 1st GOP presidential debate

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — With two weeks until the first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 campaign, eight candidates say they have met qualifications to be on stage in Milwaukee, with former Vice President Mike Pence announcing this week he had secured enough donors.

But a handful of candidates in the broad GOP field are running short on time to make the cut.

To qualify for the Aug. 23 debate, candidates need to satisfy polling and donor requirements set by the Republican National Committee: at least 1% in three high-quality national polls or a mix of national and early-state polls, between July 1 and Aug. 21, and a minimum of 40,000 donors, with 200 in 20 or more states.

A look at who’s in, who’s (maybe) out and who’s still working on making it:

WHO’S QUALIFIED

DONALD TRUMP

The current front-runner long ago satisfied the polling and donor requirements. But he is considering boycotting and holding a competing event.

Campaign advisers have said the former president has not made a final decision about the debate. But one said “it’s pretty clear,” based on Trump’s public and private statements, that he is unlikely to appear with the other candidates.

“If you’re leading by a lot, what’s the purpose of doing it?” Trump asked on Newsmax.

In the meantime, aides have discussed potential alternative programming. One option he has floated is an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who now has a program on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

RON DESANTIS

The Florida governor has long been seen as Trump’s top rival, finishing a distant second to him in polls in early-voting states, as well as national polls, and raising an impressive amount of money.

But DeSantis’ campaign has struggled in recent weeks to live up to the high expectations when he entered the race. He let go of more than one-third of his staff as federal filings showed his campaign was burning through cash at an unsustainable rate.

If Trump is absent, DeSantis may be the top target for rivals’ criticism at the debate.

TIM SCOTT

The South Carolina senator has been looking for a breakout moment. The first debate could be his chance.

A prolific fundraiser, Scott enters the summer with $21 million cash on hand.

In one debate-approved poll in Iowa, Scott joined Trump and DeSantis in reaching double digits. The senator has focused much of his campaign resources on the leadoff GOP voting state, which has a large number of white evangelical voters.

NIKKI HALEY

She has blitzed early-voting states with campaign events, walking crowds through her successes ousting a longtime South Carolina lawmaker, then becoming the state’s first female and first minority governor. Also serving as Trump’s U.N. ambassador for about two years, Haley frequently cites her international experience, focusing on the threat China poses to the United States.

The only woman in the GOP race, Haley has said transgender students competing in sports is “the women’s issue of our time” and has drawn praise from a leading anti-abortion group, which called her “uniquely gifted at communicating from a pro-life woman’s perspective.”

Bringing in $15.6 million, Haley’s campaign says she has well over 40,000 unique donors and has satisfied the debate polling requirements.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY

The biotech entrepreneur and author of “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam” is an audience favorite at multicandidate events and has polled well despite not being nationally known when he entered the race.

Ramaswamy’s campaign says he met the donor threshold earlier this year. This summer he rolled out “Vivek’s Kitchen Cabinet” to boost his donor numbers even more, by letting fundraisers keep 10% of what they bring in for his campaign.

CHRIS CHRISTIE

The former New Jersey governor opened his campaign by portraying himself as the only candidate ready to take on Trump. Christie called on the former president to “show up at the debates and defend his record.”

Christie will be on that stage, even if Trump isn’t, telling CNN this month that he surpassed “40,000 unique donors in just 35 days.” He also has met the polling requirements.

DOUG BURGUM

Burgum, a wealthy former software entrepreneur now in his second term as North Dakota’s governor, has been using his fortune to boost his campaign.

He announced a program last month to give away $20 gift cards — “Biden Relief Cards,” hitting President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy — to as many as 50,000 people in exchange for $1 donations. Critics have questioned whether the offer violates campaign finance law.

Within about a week of launching that effort, Burgum announced he had surpassed the donor threshold. Ad blitzes in the early-voting states helped him meet the polling requirements.

MIKE PENCE

Trump’s vice president had met the polling threshold but struggled to amass a sufficient number of donors, raising the possibility he might not qualify for the first debate.

But on Aug. 8, Pence’s campaign announced that it had crossed the 40,000 donor threshold, and also that he had become the first candidate to formally submit his donor count to the RNC for verification.

Pence and his advisers had long expressed confidence he would make it, noting that most other Republican hopefuls took a month or two of being active candidates to meet the mark. Pence entered the race on June 7, the same day as Burgum and one day after Christie.

On Tuesday, Pence’s campaign noted that he had met the donor mark faster than other candidates and done so without “schemes, giveaways, or gimmicks used by other campaigns.”

WHO HASN’T QUALIFIED:

ASA HUTCHINSON

According to his campaign, the former two-term Arkansas governor has met the polling requirements but is still working on passing the donor threshold. While campaigning recently in New Hampshire, Hutchinson estimated he has close to 20,000 unique donors, which his advisers say come from 26 different states.

Hutchinson is running in the mold of an old-school Republican and has differentiated himself from many of his GOP rivals in his willingness to criticize Trump. He has posted pleas on Twitter for $1 donations to help secure his slot.

FRANCIS SUAREZ

The Miami mayor has been one of the more creative candidates in his efforts to boost his donor numbers. He offered a chance to see Argentine soccer legend Lionel Messi’s debut as a player for Inter Miami, saying donors who gave $1 would be entered in a chance to get front-row tickets.

Still shy of the donor threshold, he took a page from Burgum’s playbook by offering a $20 “Bidenomics Relief Card” in return for $1 donations. A super political action committee supporting Suarez launched a sweepstakes for a chance at up to $15,000 in tuition, in exchange for a $1 donation to Suarez’s campaign.

On Aug. 7, Suarez said on social media that he had surpassed 40,000 unique donors, and had secured 200 donors in 20 different states.

A spokesperson said that Suarez had notched one qualifying state poll and still needed a national poll but that the campaign was confident he would make the debate stage.

LARRY ELDER

The conservative radio host wrote in an op-ed that the Republican National Committee “has rigged the rules of the game by instituting a set of criteria that is so onerous and poorly designed that only establishment-backed and billionaire candidates are guaranteed to be on stage.”

His campaign last month declined to detail its number of donors, saying only that there had been “a strong increase the last few weeks.” He has not met the polling requirements.

PERRY JOHNSON

Johnson, a wealthy but largely unknown businessman from Michigan, said on social media last weekend he had notched 40,000 donors. In earlier posts, he had noted that all donors would be “eligible to attend my free concert in Iowa featuring” country duo Big & Rich later this month and has said he’s confident he will make the debate stage.

Johnson, who has reached 1% in one qualifying poll, has also offered to give copies of his book “Two Cents to Save America” to anyone who donates to his campaign.

WILL HURD

The former Texas congressman — the last candidate to enter the race, on June 22 — has said repeatedly that he would not pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee, a stance that would keep him off the stage even if he had the qualifying donor and polling numbers.

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Cover Photo: This combination of photos shows Republican presidential candidates, top row from left, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former president Donald Trump, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and bottom row from left, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Vivek Ramaswamy. With less than a month to go until the first 2024 Republican presidential debate, eight candidates say they have met the qualifications for a podium slot. But that also means that about half of the broad GOP field is running short on time to make the stage. (AP Photo)

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