The Republican National Committee on Friday set out its criteria for candidates to qualify for the first Republican presidential primary debate, setting a key fundraising threshold and requiring candidates to pledge to support the final party nominee.
The criteria for the debate, scheduled for Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, come as the Republican presidential primary field grows increasingly crowded, with several contenders expected to enter the race in the coming days and weeks. A second debate could be held on August 24 if enough candidates qualify, the RNC said in a statement.
To qualify for the podium, candidates must receive support of at least 1 percent in multiple national polls recognized by the commission, and some polls from early voting states also count. The candidates must also have a minimum of 40,000 unique donors for their campaign, with at least 200 unique donors per state or territory, in 20 states and territories, according to the committee.
The debate threshold of 40,000 donors is likely to prove a consistent and costly barrier for some underfunded candidates. Republican campaigns had already been informed informally of the criteria, and some were in a race to make sure they had enough backers. Some super PACs spend money on online advertising to generate small donations to the campaigns.
In 2020, even some high-profile Democratic candidates struggled to meet the 65,000 donor threshold set by the Democratic Party for early debates and redirected money to online ads to find contributors. The 40,000 minimum could pose a challenge to lesser-known Republicans and those who have yet to start their campaigns.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has struggled to gain traction in the polls, insisted he intended to make it to the debate in a statement on Friday, even as he expressed some concerns about the criteria.
“The 40,000 donor threshold will deter some candidates from taking the debate stage and will benefit candidates who generate donations online through extreme rhetoric and scare tactics,” he said in the statement. “It also deprives voters in Iowa and other early states of the opportunity to evaluate the entire field of candidates.”
And Larry Elder, a conservative commentator who also faces a tough fight in the presidential race, said in an interview that while he expected to pass the polling threshold, the 40,000 donor rule was “tough.”
“It’s hard to get 40,000 individual donors,” said Mr Elder, who declined to specify how many donors he had so far. “We work hard. I have a professional team to do it, but I think it’s difficult, and I know other campaigns have also complained about it.”
Still, some campaigns — and future campaigns — quickly sounded confident on Friday afternoon.
“Looking forward to being there!” said Nachama Soloveichik, a spokeswoman for Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and former governor of South Carolina.
Former Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to jump into the race soon, and his team touched on a similar theme.
“There is no better communicator in the Republican Party than Mike Pence, so we look forward to being on the podium,” said Devin O’Malley, an adviser to Mr. Pence.
And Tricia McLaughlin, a senior adviser to Vivek Ramaswamy, the entrepreneur, author and “anti-woke” activist, said the campaign already had “north of 43,000” individual backers. The next campaign finance submission deadline is later this summer.
This is not the first time attempts have been made to eliminate the participants in the Republican debate. In 2016, lower poll candidates were relegated to undercard debates.
The criteria for the additional Republican debates for this campaign cycle have not been announced. A person aware of the discussions said there could be an escalation in the donor threshold for later debates, or for required polls.
Two Republicans familiar with the discussions said Gov. Ron DeSantis’ team would have wanted a threshold higher than 1 percent, which would likely have thinned the stage, allowing him to interact more directly with former President Donald J. Trump, the current Republican. front. runner.
Mr. Trump, for his part, has already suggested he might skip primary debates, claiming it wasn’t worth his time debating his rivals because of his polling advantage.
Candidates hoping to debate in the August matchup are also expected to pledge not to participate in debates not approved by the party committee for the remainder of the election cycle, and to pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee.
“I’ve always supported the party’s nominee, but I’ve never supported an oath of allegiance to any party,” said Hutchinson, who was critical of Trump. “The pledge should simply be that you are not running for a third party.”
Those who make it to the podium are grouped by polls, with the candidate with the most votes in the middle, the committee said.
Fox News is scheduled to host the first debate in Milwaukee.
Shane Goldmacher, Maggie Haberman And Reid J. Epstein reporting contributed.