Do or Die?

Time Running Out for GOP Candidates to Impress Donors

Several Republican campaigns appear to be facing the prospect of a cash-strapped future due to poor performance.

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Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

If anyone doubted the benefits of an early win in a presidential contest, Ted Cruz has made them clear.

In the three days since the Texas senator defied polls and beat Donald Trump to win the Iowa Republican caucuses, his campaign, known for robust grassroots fundraising, has raised $3 million, Cruz's campaign manager tweeted Thursday.

Not every candidate was so lucky. Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Rand Paul have dropped out of the race after failing to break through in Iowa, and the Washington Post reported Thursday that Ben Carson's campaign was making staff cuts due to a lack of funds. For those still in the race, however, the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary presents a looming, make-or-break moment in which prospective donors will likely decide which candidates still have a legitimate shot at the nomination.

"You’ve got two, sometimes three, states to get something going or donors run," said Joe Trippi, who managed then-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's 2004 presidential run. "No one gets out of these races because they got tired of it or decided it was a mistake to run. They stopped running because they ran out of money."

Several Republican campaigns appear to be facing the prospect of a cash-strapped future due to poor performance.

Insurance titan Hank Greenberg, who gave $10 million to a super-PAC supporting former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, told Bloomberg Wednesday he would probably wait only another "one or two states" before he decided whether to back Bush's one-time protege, Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Like Bush, both Ohio Governor John Kasich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have made it clear that New Hampshire is key to their presidential ambitions. Should those candidates do poorly, donors big and small might turn their words against them, as they did with Dean, said Trippi.

"That’s always what happens," he said. If "you can’t get past Iowa and New Hampshire, you might get one more look, but frankly it’s not likely."

Kasich, who was the highest-polling of the four in New Hampshire in the latest poll aggregation from RealClearPolitics, seemed to gesture to the same idea, telling Bloomberg Politics on Wednesday that if he doesn't do well, he won't "be dragging around like some band of minstrels."

With a CNN/WMUR poll out Thursday afternoon showing him in a near tie with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz for third place, it's unclear what exactly will constitute doing "well."

The calendar may not favor candidates who want to hold on after doing poorly in next Tuesday's primary. The candidates who succeed in the southern states, which hold primaries soon after New Hampshire, tend to be those who did well in Iowa—politicians who appeal to conservative or religious voters, as opposed to the moderate secular residents in the Granite State. Super Tuesday, when several states hold primaries simultaneously, also means expensive campaigning.

"Certainly for Christie and I think Bush at this point and Kasich, a no-show in New Hampshire or an under-performance in New Hampshire is very, very troubling given what’s up next on the calendar," said Hari Sevugan, who worked on the ill-fated 2008 presidential run by Chris Dodd, then a senator from Connecticut.

To take on what's next, Bush had more than $7 million on hand at the end of the year, the third-biggest war chest in the Republican field, not counting the millions behind him in super-PAC money. Kasich, though, had $2.5 million in the bank at the end of the year, while Christie had just $1.1 million, the second least of anyone still in the race at a time when candidates and groups are pouring $100 million in advertising into New Hampshire.

Representatives for Bush, Kasich, and Carson did not comment for this article. 

A spokeswoman for Christie said his donors "will continue to support him through the nomination."

"Our donors absolutely know that Governor Christie is the best person in this race to take on Hillary Clinton and win," said the spokeswoman, Samantha Smith.

It's not definite that a poor showing in New Hampshire would choke off candidates' finances immediately. Super-PACs have kept presidential candidates, particularly former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2012, afloat after losses. In addition, Carson at one point dominated Republican grassroots fundraising, and his loyal small-dollar backers may be prepared to give again.

Democrats, of course, face similar pressures, but this year Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton had stronger fundraising and more money in the bank than any Republican at end of 2015.

Still, presidential campaign fields tend to winnow quickly after the Granite State.

"People put all of their eggs in the New Hampshire basket," Sevugan said. "If all those eggs break, there’s nothing left."

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