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Former Arkansas governor Hutchinson says he has qualified for Wednesday's presidential debate

by Alex Thomas | August 22, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican presidential candidate, walks on stage before speaking at the Family Leadership Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday, July 14, 2023. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Hutchinson reports 40,000 donors in presidential bid by Alex Thomas | Today at 7:16 a.m.


Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Sunday he has qualified for the Republican Party's first presidential primary debate after surpassing 40,000 unique donors.

Reaching the contribution threshold was a necessary step for Hutchinson, 72, who appeared to have met other Republican National Committee requirements yet fought to collect enough donations.

With Hutchinson's campaign submitting nearly 42,000 donors to the Republican National Committee for verification, the former governor would qualify for Wednesday's debate stage in Milwaukee, presenting the opportunity for him to introduce himself to a nationwide audience and explain his differences from the party's front-runner, former President Donald Trump, and other candidates.

"I am thankful to the tens of thousands of Americans who have contributed to my campaign and helped ensure my message of consistent, commonsense, conservative leadership is represented on the debate stage this Wednesday evening," Hutchinson said in a statement Sunday morning.

The Republican National Committee previously established requirements to qualify for Wednesday's debate. Candidates must receive contributions from 40,000 unique donors -- including a minimum of 200 donors in at least 20 states -- and reach at least 1% in either four national polls or two national polls and two polls from early primary states.

The party will announce the qualifying candidates ahead of Wednesday's debate.

Hutchinson entered the race for president in April, touting his eight years as Arkansas' governor and his leadership within the George W. Bush administration. The former governor has presented himself as an anti-Trump option for Republicans, challenging the former president's status within the party in light of Trump's repeated claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and in light of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Hutchinson has additionally called on Trump to suspend his campaign following multiple indictments against the former president. Trump, 77, faces charges in four separate criminal investigations on matters related to purportedly falsifying business records, mishandling classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and interfering in the 2020 presidential election in hopes of overturning the results.

"I intend to continue speaking the truth when it comes to the responsibility that Donald Trump bears for the attacks on our democracy and justice system," Hutchinson said. "I look forward to a substantive debate in Milwaukee."

Hutchinson has reached at least 1% in multiple national polls, including a CBS News-YouGov poll released Sunday. Trump was favored by 62% of poll respondents considered likely Republican primary voters.

The former governor's chances to make Wednesday's debate appeared dim one month ago. Hutchinson's campaign announced 6,444 unique donors supporting the candidate during the second fundraising quarter, which was from April through June.

"I think it is very surprising for almost everybody who has followed nomination politics and fundraising that he was really able to get this many people to sign on in such a small time," said Andrew Dowdle, a University of Arkansas professor whose work involves the presidency and presidential elections.

According to America Strong and Free Action, a political action committee supporting Hutchinson's presidential efforts, more than 20,000 people donated to Hutchinson in the two weeks leading up to Sunday's announcement.

Dowdle told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the campaign appeared capable of reaching 40,000 unique donors by the end of the current fundraising quarter in September, but eclipsing the mark to make the debate is an significant accomplishment.

"This is certainly something of an important landmark," he said Sunday. "Not only making the debate stage, but also in terms of getting that many people to donate to his campaign."

Another condition to participate in Wednesday's debate involves signing a loyalty pledge to support the Republican Party's eventual nominee and not attempt a third-party bid.

Hutchinson told CNN on Sunday that he will sign the loyalty pledge, saying he is "confident" that Trump is not going to be the nominee of the party.

Hutchinson has criticized the pledge, saying in June on X -- the social media platform previously known as Twitter -- that the Republican National Committee should include an opt-out clause if the nominee is found "guilty of espionage or a serious felony," referencing charges against Trump in two criminal cases. Two other indictments involving Trump have been filed since Hutchinson's post.

Dowdle said Wednesday's debate presents an opportunity for Hutchinson to introduce himself to voters who may not know his background or platform. For Hutchinson, there is also time to separate himself from other Republicans who have spoken against Trump, such as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

"Looking at where [Hutchinson] is, he's what one could say is the more polite of the anti-Trumpers," Dowdle said.

"You're kind of hoping to be that person in second or third place after Iowa and New Hampshire," he said. "You're kind of hoping that lightning strikes to some degree and that something happens that ends up taking Trump out as an effective candidate."

Multiple other Republicans appear to have qualified for Wednesday's debate, including Christie, 60, former Vice President Mike Pence, 64, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, 44, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, 57, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, 51, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, 38.

One person who seems to have qualified for the debate but may not participate is Trump. The former president has openly stated he will skip the debates, arguing people already know his record as president.

"All of the candidates who are on the debate stage end up gaining [support], in a sense," Dowdle said.

"Obviously, it's larger for some individuals than others in terms of that boost," he added. "It's a major opportunity for [Hutchinson], but even getting to this mark and getting on the stage is going to be something that is going to be a positive."

Fox News will host Wednesday's debate, which is scheduled to begin 8 p.m. Central time.

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