Democratic Presidential Field Bracing For Early Autumn Exits

Over the last dozen cycles, more presidential candidates have ended their campaigns in September and October (13) than November and December (eight) with only four doing so in August

Democratic presidential candidates descended upon Iowa this weekend to campaign during the State Fair.

And while some candidates drew much larger crowds than others, the happenings at the 11-day event will not likely play a role in winnowing the field of two-dozen White House hopefuls.

In fact, over the last half-century, there have not been many exits from the presidential race during August of the year before the election.

The fate of most of these candidate was tied to their less than stellar performances at the now defunct Iowa Straw Poll.

In 1999, former governor and U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander placed a distant sixth at the Straw Poll (6.0 percent) and dropped out of the race two days later on August 16th.

In 2007, former Wisconsin governor and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson also placed sixth in his neighboring state (7.3 percent) and ended his campaign the next day on August 12th.

Likewise, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty invested heavily in his performance at the Straw Poll – but his third place performance (13.6 percent) was not enough to enable him to continue his campaign, exiting the following day on August 13th.

[Note: Mike Gravel, who has been characterized by some in the media as not-so-serious candidate in 2020, also suspended his campaign on August 6th of this year].

Only one other major 2020 Democratic candidate has ended their campaign since the debates began this summer – California Congressman Eric Swalwell on July 8th.

Just two other candidates have closed down shop in July over the last dozen cycles: Republicans John Kasich (July 14, 1999) and Jim Gilmore (July 14, 2007).

However, with several candidates likely to be shut out of the September debates, one would expect more Democrats to end their campaigns this autumn, and historically, twice as many have done so in September compared to August:

  • Democrat Joe Biden (1988): September 23, 1987
  • Republican Pete Wilson (1996): September 29, 1995
  • Republican Dan Quayle (2000): September 27, 1999
  • Republican Thad McCotter (2012): September 22, 2011
  • Republican Rick Perry (2016): September 11, 2015
  • Republican Scott Walker (2016): September 21, 2015

Even more still have exited the race in October:

  • Republican Elizabeth Dole (2000): October 20, 1999
  • Republican Pat Buchanan (2000): October 25, 1999 (ended GOP bid)
  • Republican Bob Smith (2000): October 28, 1999
  • Democrat Bob Graham (2004): October 6, 2003
  • Republican Sam Brownback (2008): October 19, 2007
  • Democrat Jim Webb (2016): October 20, 2015
  • Democrat Lincoln Chafee (2016): October 23, 2015

But November and December have been comparatively quiet in terms of candidate exits perhaps due in part to the initial primaries and caucuses being so close on the calendar at that point of the cycle.

Three candidates have ended their campaigns in November:

  • Democrat Fred Harris (1972): November 10, 1971
  • Republican Arlen Specter (1996): November 22, 1995
  • Republican Bobby Jindal (2016): November 17, 2015

And five in December:

  • Republican Tom Tancredo (2008): December 20, 2007
  • Republican Herman Cain (2012): December 11, 2011
  • Republican Gary Johnson (2012): December 28, 2011 (ended his GOP campaign)
  • Republican Lindsey Graham (2016): December 21, 2015
  • Republican George Pataki (2016): December 29, 2015

One of the reasons most of the names listed above are from more recent cycles is due to the fact that presidential campaigns are generally launching much earlier on the calendar than they were, say, in the 1970s.

Overall, 22 of the 32 odd-numbered year exits from the presidential race since 1972 have been by Republican candidates.

Four major party candidates have ended their White House campaigns prior to July: Republican Lowell Weicker (May 17, 1979), Democrat Gary Hart (May 8, 1987 – before jumping back into the race that December), Democrat Tom Vilsack (February 23, 2007), and Democrat Richard Ojeda (January 25, 2019).

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3 Comments on "Democratic Presidential Field Bracing For Early Autumn Exits"

  1. 1. Mike Gravel apparently ended his 2020 campaign on August 6, unsuccessful in his stated goal of making the debates. Interestingly, he was the only candidate to have amassed the requisite number of donors who did not also meet the polling threshold. Hence he is the first (“major”) Democrat to end his presidential campaign in August.

    2. Even as we expect to see the candidates with the lowest support drop out soon, (as has been pointed out in various media) the criteria for qualifying for the *fourth* debate in October are strangely more inclusive than those for qualifying for the third debate in September; the effect of the DNC’s stipulations is that everyone who qualifies for the third debate is also qualified for the fourth debate, while those who do not qualify for the third debate have one more month to attempt to meet both the donors and polls thresholds. Therefore, we may see a mass exodus in October by those who currently (believe that they) have a chance of making the October debate, but who ultimately fail.

    • The Gravel exit probably should be noted (and is now above), although the strangeness surrounding the origins and raison d’etre of his campaign led many media outlets to leave him off the count of ‘major’ candidates this cycle. This site usually counted him, given his political resume.

  2. There is merely more time to qualify for Debate #4, meaning that, unless one has some heavy governing responsibilities (e.g. House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees member Eric Michael SWALWELL, junior) she or he has no incentive to prematurely bow out before end of October – something many believe ex-Governor Pawlenty had back in 2011, when he was spooked by the nonbinding and indeed symbolic IA Straw Poll. BTW, had the event continued in August 2015, and “Ttump” fared poorly in it, would he then have continued his brand-marketing (I mean presidential) bid?

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