Another One Bites the Dust: Drop-out Candidates

Posted: November 30, 2015 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog
Lincoln Chafee

Former Rhode Island senator and presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee speaks to fairgoers at the Des Moines Register’s Soapbox in August. Photo by Sarah LeBlanc. 

Drop-out presidential candidates: the candidates who started from the bottom and stayed there. Since the start of September, five candidates have abandoned/indefinitely suspended their campaigns for president. Rick Perry started the domino effect, followed by Scott Walker, Democrats Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee and Republican Bobby Jindal. With money troubles as the main contributing factor, and Jindal being pretty much run by his super PAC Believe Again, low-polling candidates are finding it difficult to continue the race even before the Iowa caucuses. It also doesn’t help that Donald Trump has been using his domination over the headlines to push fellow Republicans to drop out from the beginning.

A candidate’s decision to drop out is typically influenced by the amount of money he has left, a scandal or low polling numbers. With the overwhelming number of candidates we started out with, it’s not necessarily surprising that five candidates have dropped out already, but it does allow for a conversation about how this decision affects those still in the race. When Walker (R-WI) dropped out, the majority of his donors and staffers backed Marco Rubio’s campaign because of his similar appeal to establishment and conservative backers, though Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Chris Christie also received financial and volunteer support from previous Walker supporters. Walker’s decision to drop out was probably the most surprising of the candidates, since he was polling relatively high in Iowa until he rapidly dropped down to less than one percent support in September. From his announcement in July to his exit from the race in early September, Walker holds the third-shortest campaign period since 1972.

At this stage of the race, Iowa has the potential to hold substantial influence over a politician’s decision to continue in the presidential race. If candidates are having trouble in Iowa, they may not be able to see past a loss in the caucus, or they might take their chances on the New Hampshire primary. With both contests still a couple of months away, most candidates are waiting to measure their success with the voters before calling it quits. For the candidates who already made the preemptive decision to leave the race, they may have the most to lose if the race doesn’t pan out in their favor. For those with nothing better to do, they may stay in the race as long as their pockets are full and the media spotlight is shining down on them.

Following the decision to drop out of the presidential race, candidates have a couple of options. Some, like Webb, may entertain running as an Independent in an effort to divert voters from aligning with other candidates. Others, like Perry until he dropped out again, may postpone the campaign until until the next election cycle. Candidates’ staffs are also left with the choice of whether to abandon the campaign or align themselves with a different candidate, typically in the same party.  Drake student Jon Lueth, a junior politics and English double major from Sparta, Illinois, worked for the Walker campaign before the governor dropped out. He now works with the Bush campaign.

For Lueth, a solid record of governing was crucial when deciding where to lend his support. “When Walker dropped out I surveyed the field and had to find a candidate I could whole heartedly get behind,” Lueth said via email. “I looked at Bush and saw that he had the strongest record in the field and I really liked his message overall.”

Though there are a plethora of reasons why a candidate may decide it’s not his time to shine, Lueth explained it may come down to factors outside of financial backing. “Perhaps they decided they didn’t have the message. Maybe they just realized this wasn’t what they wanted to do right now,” Lueth said. These explanations were given by Walker and Jindal, respectively, when they left the race.

A candidate’s decision to leave the race does not mean he won’t enter it again, but it may be a cause for criticism and scrutiny in the future. “Not only do you have to overcome the typical scrutiny but you also would have to overcome the ‘drop-out’ scrutiny,” Lueth said.

As low-polling candidates slowly take themselves out of the race, the remaining contenders are left to rally the support of those left in the lurch by drop-out candidates. Though there are many predictions about who will be the next candidate to drop out of the race, it may be wise to wait until the real winnowing starts after the New Hampshire primary to hedge our bets on the potential winner of their party’s nomination.

IMG_1215LeBlanc is a junior political science and journalism major from Madison, Wisconsin. She’s visited three countries in the last six months and enjoys copious amounts of Netflix, chocolate and bad puns. Follow her on Twitter.