Editor’s Note: This post was written by Nicholas Pozzi, Eric Brower, and Stella Pabis.
The invisible primary is over and the results from the state primaries and caucuses have resulted in the dropouts of some longshot Republican and Democratic mainstage candidates such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Based on our analysis, here is what stalled their campaigns short of the White House doors.
Senator Rand Paul failed to garner immense support, especially in contrast to his father’s 2012 presidential bid. After a fifth place finish in Iowa, Rand was only awarded one delegate. Furthermore, he was only polling at around 2% in New Hampshire, when he dropped out. In New Hampshire, a poor showing would have decimated his chances. What led to Paul’s exit?
First, no candidate has received major party support for the Republicans. However, Paul’s endorsements spoke more to his fringe Libertarian positions. His endorsements mainly consisted of a small enclave of the Republican Party—libertarian-leaning Republicans. Although Paul received the endorsement of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, many assume that this support stemmed from their mutual Kentucky roots.
Part of Paul’s exit emanated from the media’s lack of attention. Paul cited media blackout throughout the campaign and called for support from donors to counteract it. Paul lambasted the media for depriving him of a fair chance at the presidency. One stand-out instance in mid-2015 can be noted in which Fox News displayed a poll presenting all GOP candidates except for Paul.
Finally, money became a huge issue for Paul. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) projected that Paul only had $1.2 million to spend. Other sources reported that he owed upwards of $250,000 in bills. As Paul’s finances diminished, so did his chances for continuing as a viable candidate. Paul was also defending his Senate seat in Kentucky, thus dividing his time and focus. McConnell pressured Paul to focus on his reelection campaign in Kentucky and abandon his quest for the Oval Office.
Martin O’Malley’s longshot presidential campaign ended as the result of his failure to garner any real support from voters, poor financing, and a lack of media recognition throughout the race. During the invisible primary, O’Malley polled around 2-4% and was projected to gather about the same percentage of the vote on caucus night. However, Democratic rules left him below the 15% threshold, earning him only 0.6% in Iowa in the final tally. O’Malley’s anemic campaign can be attributed to his lack of name recognition—something Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have achieved before and during the race—and non-earthshaking ideas, as compared to those of Sanders.
O’Malley’s political career was largely at the municipal level, beginning in the City of Baltimore, before becoming the Governor of Maryland. O’Malley, therefore, had never really appeared on the national political scene prior to his presidential campaign. As a result, his campaign lacked the same major donors and finances Clinton and Sanders enjoy.
O’Malley also never really gained any media attention, something key to a longshot candidate’s success. This was best highlighted in his denied “just 10 seconds” plea for acknowledgement at one debate. For O’Malley to have thrived, he needed to capture media attention, turn it into support and donations, then turn that into results in polls and at the ballot box. This is something he could not do due to the domination of Clinton and Sanders in the media coverage of the Democratic race.
These factors left O’Malley fighting an uphill battle against Clinton and Sanders, vying for attention. O’Malley’s lack of a name on the national scene and lack of voter-nabbing ideas failed to gain him support, finances, and media attention—three things critical to the success of a longshot candidate, these factors ultimately led to his exit.
Similar to O’Malley’s campaign, Chris Christie was a longshot candidate whose campaign never really got off the ground and suffered from little media coverage. Christie is a niche candidate appealing to moderate Republicans, a shrinking group in numbers and influence, who could not appeal to voters beyond his base.
As a result of being so ideologically different from the majority of the Republican Party, Christie was not able to gain popularity outside of his moderate base, which was reflected in his endorsements. Christie received a total of nine endorsements from like-minded governors and congressmen. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush had more endorsements from many regions, making them appear to be more viable candidates.
As a longshot candidate, Christie needed media coverage to help gain support that he could translate into votes at the polls. This was difficult with Donald Trump’s entry into the race, as Trump dominated media coverage, making it difficult for longshot candidates to get the media coverage they needed. By December 15th, 2015, Trump held 54% of all Republican news coverage. This especially hurt Christie who lost the image of being the outspoken “tell it like it is” candidate and the media coverage attached to it. Christie’s media troubles were worsened after the Iowa Caucuses as Rubio’s strong finish made him the leading establishment candidate, allowing him to nab a good share of the media coverage not dedicated to Trump.
The lack of media coverage, coupled with Christie’s ideological disconnect with the party base resulted in poor poll performance. A Gallup poll of Republican voters found just under 70% of voters had heard of Christie, but only about 10% approved of him. This meant that Christie was fighting to change the perception that voters had of him, which was harder for him to do with a lack of media coverage. As a result, Christie performed poorly in Iowa and then New Hampshire—a state where he needed to do well in order to stay competitive in the race. Campaign finances were not a terrible issue for Christie with well over $20 million, but, as a result of poor finishes and polling, little media coverage, and an unfavorable slate of Conservative Super Tuesday primaries looming, Christie’s chances of winning the nomination were nonexistent. This resulted in his withdrawal from the race.