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Begging and buying: GOP presidential hopefuls will do almost anything to qualify for first debate

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s allies are pleading with voters to send him money so he can win an invite to the first GOP presidential debate next month in Milwaukee.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum also got creative to try to get on the debate stage. He is sending a $20 gift card to anyone who sends his campaign a $1 donation.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, is being tight-lipped about whether he has done enough to win a spot on stage after a less-than-stellar fundraising quarter renewed questions about his bid.

The Aug. 23 showdown is one of the more important early mile markers in the 2024 presidential race, giving candidates a venue to speak directly to millions of Americans.

The first debate of the 2016 GOP race drew a staggering 23.9 million viewers.

For longshot 2024 contenders, missing the debate next month could mark the beginning of the end.

Scrambling to avoid that fate, the pro-Hutchinson American Strong and Free super PAC released a new ad this week highlighting Mr. Hutchinson’s work as U.S. Attorney under President Ronald Reagan. 

“Ronald Reagan knew winners, he knew Asa was a winner,” the narrator says in the ad, which includes footage of Mr. Reagan praising Mr. Hutchinson. “Today’s political establishment is trying to keep a Reagan conservative off the debate stage. Give Asa just $1 today to help him secure his support in the debate.”

To qualify for the first debate, the Republican National Committee is requiring candidates to garner the support of at least 1% in recognized national and early state polls. Candidates also must receive at least 40,000 unique donors to their campaign, and at least 200 unique donors in 20 or more states or territories.

Former President Donald Trump is sure to qualify for the showdown but has toyed with boycotting it, and he could instead participate in an interview with former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson at the same time as the debate. 

Mr. Trump cites his massive lead in national and early state polls.

“Ronald Reagan didn’t do it and a lot of other people didn’t do it. When you have a big lead, you don’t do it.” Mr. Trump said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures” to explain his debate-skipping rationale. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have all reached the fundraising threshold.

Mr. Burgum joined that list this week, announcing his fundraising gamut paid off.

“We passed the 40,000 mark today. We’ve got more gift cards to give out. We’re going to keep on going,” he said on CNN.

Mr. Pence appears to still have some work to do. 

He raked in less than $1.2 million over the second quarter of the year, raising doubts about his staying power. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, conservative commentator Larry Elder and businessman Perry Johnson also are missing the fundraising mark, according to a running tally by Politico.


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