By Ben Kamisar - 10/17/15 09:01 AM EDT
Mike Huckabee faces the greatest challenge of the top 10 GOP presidential candidates in continuing his campaign, according to the latest fundraising reports released on Thursday.
While the former Arkansas governor is in no real danger of missing the cut for the third debate in two weeks based on poll numbers, his financial picture is a different matter.
Candidates posting poor figures “should be extremely worried,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked with Sen. John McCainJohn McCainFormer Bush national security official backing Clinton over Trump Juan Williams: GOP sounds the sirens over Trump Marines reignite debate on women in combat MORE’s (Ariz.) presidential campaign in 2008.
“Donors want to back the winner and it’s becoming completely clear who the winners are likely to be.”
The latest fundraising figures show that Huckabee spent about $100,000 more than he brought in, leaving him with $761,000 on hand. That’s less in the bank than Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA Bipartisan gun measure survives test vote Senate Republicans may defy NRA on guns MORE (R-S.C.), who has only registered at least 1 percent in five out of 20 national polls since August, according to RealClearPolitics.
Huckabee’s team is nonetheless projecting confidence and noting his come-from-behind victory at the 2008 Iowa caucus as a model for future success.
“We've done this before, can do it again, and will have the resources we need to be successful in Iowa, the early southern states, and beyond,” Huckabee spokeswoman Alice Stewart told The Hill in a statement.
But at the same spot on the calendar that year, Huckabee was polling well within double digits in Iowa and started topping polls by the end of 2007, according to an RCP analysis. Now, he sits in seventh place in RCP averages, far outside of the top echelon.
“It’s horrible for Huckabee…if he doesn’t win Iowa he is dead in the water,” O’Connell said.
“Sixty percent of the Iowa Republican caucus base is evangelical, you have to make a straight religious, social values play,” he added, something the former pastor is built to do even as religious voters find homes under the wings of other candidates.
Five GOP candidates have bubbled to the top of fundraising pot after the reports went public—Donald TrumpDonald TrumpObama to make clean energy pledge with Mexico, Canada: report Anti-Trump leaders sending 'advance team' to Cleveland: report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE, Ben Carson, former Gov. Jeb Bush (Fla.), Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioThe Hill's 12:30 Report Rubio challenger takes aim at Senate reversal in new ad Juan Williams: GOP sounds the sirens over Trump MORE (Fla.) and Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzAnti-Trump leaders sending 'advance team' to Cleveland: report Trump's support among white Protestant Republicans ticks up GOP senator pushes Trump to adopt 'constitutional agenda' MORE (Fla.).
With money starting to dry up for much of the rest of the field, the reports prompted questions about the health of many of these other campaigns.
Paul and Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) are in better shape than Huckabee, but are still a far cry from the rest of the pack. Paul raised $2.5 million while spending a staggering $4.5 million, but still has more than $2 million in cash on hand.
Christie, on the other hand, has just $1.4 million in the bank after raising $4.2 million and spending $2.8 million. He’s tenth in the RCP rankings.
All of these candidates share a same major problem—a severely fractured field that has caused similar candidates to cannibalize each other’s supporters.
It’s no secret many establishment Republicans who fear a Donald Trump nomination want the field to winnow hoping to lead to his demise. While polls show Trump with a wide lead over a fractured field, a handful of candidates are able to take him down in one-on-one matchups.
When Gov. Scott Walker (Wis.) dropped out, he called for others to follow his lead in the hopes of cutting Trump down. But so far, every candidate has chosen to sit tight since Walker left with almost $1 million in the bank, and the results are felt both in fractured polling results and lackluster fundraising numbers.
With less than two weeks until the next GOP debate, four candidates are deeply entrenched outside the top 10 as almost permanent fixtures of any undercard debate. That will only underscore an image likely to complicate fundraising.
Graham has far-and-away the most money in the bank out of those candidates, with $1.7 million, thanks in large part by an initial $1.5 million transfer from his Senate account.
His campaign’s “burn rate” -- the ratio of spending to income -- is a disastrous negative 200 percent: He spent $2 million last quarter while raising $1 million. But an adequate cash on hand figure will likely keep him afloat as long as he cuts spending.
Former Gov. George Pataki is creeping dangerously close to campaigning in the red—he reported less than $14,000 on hand after spending more than twice what he took in.
Despite seeing gains in recent Iowa polling, Gov. Bobby Jindal (La.) closed the third quarter with just $260,000 in the bank after spending more than he took in. And former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is close behind with $227,000 on hand with another negative burn rate, despite winning the Iowa caucuses in 2012.
“Historically, an underfunded campaign has always been able to look to create on-the-ground enthusiasm as a way to break through,” said Dan Schnur, the former communications director on McCain’s 2000 campaign.
“But it’s hard to see how any of them can create that kind of enthusiasm given how many candidates there are.”
On the Democratic side, the three lower-tier candidates are reeling in a race where Clinton and Sanders are blocking out the sun.
While only former Gov. Martin O’Malley (Md.) spent more than he took in, former Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) and former Gov. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) spent comparably little on their fledgling campaigns.
“If I were Webb or Chafee I would be seriously wondering what else I can be doing with my time rather than running for president,” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said.
O’Malley, who raised $1.3 million in the third quarter compared to $30 million for Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonObama to make clean energy pledge with Mexico, Canada: report Anti-Trump leaders sending 'advance team' to Cleveland: report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE and $26 million for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersClinton lauds Warren in first joint appearance Warren knocks Trump as she campaigns with Clinton Democrats adopt climate change science investigation in platform MORE, leads the three with $806,000 cash on hand.
But all three have pennies to the dollar when compared to the gigantic hauls that Clinton and Sanders have stored for a rainy day.
While Bannon admits the former governor’s chances are slim, there’s at least a sliver of hope as long as Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: US 'preferred a different outcome' on Brexit Abortion is weakness for Clinton VP favorite Overnight Defense: Biden hits Trump on national security | Dems raise pressure over refugees | Graham vows fight over spending caps MORE doesn’t get in.
“If Bernie’s campaign starts to get shaky, the anti-Hillary vote has to go somewhere. If not Biden, O’Malley is the guy. But if Biden gets in, that would close the window,” he said.