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Tim Ryan Becomes 2020’s Latest Also-Ran

Slowly but surely, the winnowing process is taking its toll on the Democratic presidential field. On Thursday, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan dropped out of the race to focus on his reelection bid in the House. On the surface, the congressman’s electoral pitch as a moderate, blue-collar Democrat from the traditional swing state of Ohio had a fair bit of potential, too. But unlike South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg or even Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Ryan failed to attract enough support to carve out some sort of lane for himself in the primary.

Some of Ryan’s struggles came down to the nature of the field and his relatively low profile coming into the race. As a House member, Ryan might have started out at a disadvantage compared to some candidates who held or had held higher offices. If Ryan had been, say, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown — who opted not to run for president — things might have gone differently. Even after six or so months of campaigning, Ryan wasn’t that well known. Only about half of Democrats had an opinion about him back in late August, and recent polling suggests that he wasn’t becoming better known, either. Of course, if former Vice President Joe Biden hadn’t gotten into the race, it’s possible that some moderate Democrats would have considered Ryan as an alternative. In the end, Ryan wasn’t even able to attract the very low threshold of support necessary — 2 percent in four qualifying polls and 130,000 unique donors — to qualify for the third and fourth debates (he wasn’t on track to make the fifth debate, either).

Ryan’s lack of financial resources also factored into his campaign’s difficulties and eventual demise. In the second quarter of 2019, he raised roughly $900,000, which would have been a great fundraising haul for his House race but was woefully inadequate for a presidential candidate (and the second-lowest amount of any “major” presidential candidate at the time, per FiveThirtyEight’s criteria). And in the third quarter he fared even worse, bringing in only $425,000 with just $160,000 in the bank. Although Ryan could theoretically have stayed in the race for months to come — Ohio law permits someone to run for president and the House at the same time — it’s tough to maintain a presidential campaign if you have virtually no money, so Ryan’s poor fundraising was probably the nail in his campaign’s coffin.

If Ryan had had a breakthrough in the two debates he participated in, maybe he could’ve raised a bit more money or attracted more support in the polls. But he didn’t have a “moment” in the debates, much less in the campaign as a whole. Just as things didn’t pan out for Reps. Eric Swalwell and Seth Moulton, Ryan’s failure is yet another example of how hard it is for a House member to run for president.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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