Republican Candidates Must Have 40,000 Donors And Poll At 1% To Make First Debate Stage

The RNC released its rules for the primary debate on August 23 in Milwaukee, which also include a pledge to support the eventual presidential nominee.
A composite image showing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) and former President Donald Trump.
A composite image showing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) and former President Donald Trump.
via Associated Press

Republican presidential candidates hoping to participate in the season’s first primary debate on August 23 will need to prove that they have 40,000 individual donors, with at least 200 from 20 different states or territories, while also polling at least at 1% and promising to support the party’s eventual nominee.

The Republican National Committee on Friday announced the criteria for the Milwaukee event, formalising the rules that candidates and others have known were coming together for weeks.

“The RNC is committed to putting on a fair, neutral, and transparent primary process and the qualifying criteria set forth will put our party and eventual nominee in the best position to take back the White House come November 2024,” Ronna McDaniel, the committee chair, said in a statement.

The GOP will stage a second debate on August 24 if there are too many qualifying candidates to appear on a single stage, although the party would not say what the limit would be. Nor would it specify on what basis the candidates would be split between the two nights.

Republicans had 17 candidates run in 2016 and early on held two debates, one after the other, with the event for lower-polling candidates earning the “kids table” designation.

The requirement for a significant number of small donors reflects the work that the party must to do to catch up with Democrats, with many GOP candidates substantially outraised by their opponents in key 2022 midterm races. But the threshold could prove a hurdle for lesser-known candidates, especially those who get in late.

Among those likely to run but yet to announce are former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu.

Each could face difficulty coming up with the minimum number of donors, although Christie, who has an established history of devastating a rival on the debate stage and who has aggressively criticised Donald Trump since his failed coup attempt on January 6, 2021, may have the advantage of appealing to a broad swath of Americans who see Trump as a threat to democracy.

The former president, who has developed a list of millions of small-dollar donors, is certain to qualify, as is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott are also likely to reach the required figure. Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign said he already had 43,000 donors.

The debate rules say the RNC must receive proof for the donor requirement two days before the event. They also lay out the number and type of polls in which a candidate must hit 1%.

Both the polling and donor thresholds will likely rise for subsequent debates, with 50,000 donors under consideration for the event in California and 60,000 for the one in Alabama.


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