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GOP candidate Chris Christie signs up to run in the NH primary. AP Photo/Jim Cole

Nov 7, 2015 11:38 AM

Unpopular GOP candidates mulling when to pack it in

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — For months, Republican presidential candidates with dwindling bank accounts and negligible support in polls have been finding reasons to stay in the 2016 race.

Now, a few must weigh whether they can keep competing after being downgraded or excluded from Tuesday's fourth GOP debate. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have been bumped to the undercard debate because of low poll numbers, while South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki didn't qualify for either event.

Each of the candidates has so far vowed to stay in the race, keeping the Republican contest crowded with just under three months until the Iowa caucuses kick off the nominating process. Fifteen Republicans are still running for president, while three Democrats are vying for their party's nomination.

"I'll go there, debate, and as soon as I leave the debate I'll go to Iowa and get back to work," Christie said Friday as he filed his paperwork to run in the New Hampshire primary.

Struggling candidates can see multiple reasons to keep their White House hopes alive. It's relatively inexpensive to campaign in Iowa and they can use television appearances as a way to get free publicity. Running for president can be a stepping stone to high-profile television jobs and other lucrative opportunities. And given that the field remains unsettled, there's always the possibility that an unlikely candidate can make a late surge in one of the early voting states.

Huckabee pulled off a surprise victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum did the same four years later, though neither ultimately secured his party's nomination.

"Candidates never really run out of reasons to run," said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist who advised 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney. "Many are staying in because the lesson learned from past campaigns is that it's possible to go from 1 percent to winning the caucuses, or at least beat expectations."


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