I had a brilliant idea for an article. I wanted to analyze the 2020 candidates, looking at who would be the first to drop out.
Then Eric Swalwell beat me to it.
On Monday, Swalwell dropped out of the race to pursue a fifth term in the House of Representatives. Languishing at the back of the pack, Swalwell failed to break out in the June debates, and faced the certainty of not qualifying for July debates. For a 38-year-old with a steady job in California, the reasons for staying in the campaign were slim.
And so, I shifted my article to the next best thing: Who will drop out next?
The reasons for lesser-known candidates to stick in the race seem clear.
By raising their national profile, they could land more Twitter followers, a book deal, a CNN job or even a cabinet position. Before we consider who will drop out of the race next, let’s analyze why someone would drop out.
1) They want to run for something else. There can only be one President, and many of those running are giving up the chance to run for something else — as Swalwell was before his announcement. John Delaney isn’t running in Maryland’s 6th district, and Tulsi Gabbard won’t run in 2020 in her Hawaii district. Should their fortunes turn south — or they come to their senses about their chances — we could see more candidates jumping ship for another race before Iowa.
2) They make a fatal flub. The kind of flub that Joe Biden has succumbed to over the past four decades has been turned into a show of authenticity for his campaign. While his comments about working with segregationists snowballed into a damaging debate moment with Kamala Harris, Biden is recovering and still standing on two feet. The same may not be true for another candidate if they let their mouth run, and it could force them to drop out.
3) Their past becomes the present. Biden survived another case of this, with allegations of inappropriate behavior. In that sense, he’s the iron man of this race. But for other candidates with long voting records or shifty pasts, their candidacy could be defined by something uncovered by the media.
4) They run out of cash. Donations, by virtue of being a debate requirement, have been the hottest commodity in this race, and with almost all candidates vowing to not take PAC money or cash from corporations, there’s only so much dough to go around. Coupled with not making the debates, candidates without a firm financial grounding to work from could easily hit a wall while others glide to February.
There are, of course, other reasons. A candidate could be overtaken by what’s happening on their own watch back home — Buttigieg nearly was last month — or could simply fall into absolute obscurity with no firm reason for their demise. Some pundits expect up to 12 dropouts by the time February rolls around.
I project John Hickenlooper will be the next.
Hickenlooper was one of the first candidates to fall victim to the political hit piece that can doom any campaign. Politico published an article last week that paints a damning picture of a campaign in shambles, with top staffers — many of whom have since jumped ship — asking Hickenlooper to drop out and run for the Senate. Hickenlooper has 13,000 individual donors and raised only $1 million in the second quarter. “[He] will likely run out of money completely in about a month,” the Politico article reads. Similar stories in ABC News and AP led a dismal New York Magazine headline: “Will Hickenlooper Be First Democratic Candidate To Quit?” Thankfully for Hickenlooper, he no longer has to take that mantle.
There is no other candidate that meets the perfect storm of negativity as Hickenlooper does.
At a moment when many voters haven’t even heard of the former Governor, their views of him are being defined by a cloud of news coverage about him never being president. Hickenlooper, contrary to his peers, has many reasons to not run for president. Count it up: He has no money, no polling support, a job he would be better suited for and negative media coverage. No other candidate matches the criteria for a drop out that well; even Swalwell wasn’t attacked in the media.
Hickenlooper reportedly sees a lane for himself as the leader of the moderate wing of the party should Biden stumble, but even if that chance arises, he could do more good for the party by running for Senator in Colorado. In that sense, a drop out seems imminent.
When exactly could that be?
Given that Hickenlooper currently sits at just 13,000 donors, his odds of reaching the September debates are non-existent. He’ll have to increase his individual donor base by a factor of ten, and while three polls with two percent support or more are required to qualify, he hasn’t polled above zero percent in Iowa since mid-May. It is true that the July debates in Detroit could provide Hickenlooper with a platform to win over voters, but that much is near impossible.
With Swalwell taking one for the team in becoming the first candidate to drop out, the rest may follow in short succession. Over the next few weeks, we may, in the words of Julián Castro, “say adiós” to John Hickenlooper.
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