Technically, the answer is 267. That’s how many Republicans have filed statements of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission as of Monday, June 26. But the vast majority of them are anonymous candidates waging hopeless campaigns. (For example, Oskar Cats, as a feline, does not meet the constitutional requirements for the presidency.)
Obviously, it’s impractical — and more than that, irresponsible — for the media to give these quixotes the same level of attention as former President Donald Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. So it’s understandable that NPR, The New York Times and Politico have culled their lists to the low double digits. But unfortunately, it’s not clear how they decided who made the cut. While everyone can agree that Trump and DeSantis, the two current leaders in the race, should clear the bar, what about businessman Perry Johnson, or radio host Larry Elder? These are important decisions, since getting media coverage is essential for any serious campaign.
That’s why we at FiveThirtyEight believe in having an objective and transparent standard to separate the wheat from the chaff. To that end, today we’re laying out our criteria for defining a “major” presidential candidate (as in, “today, Kelsey Grammer shocked the world and became the Xth major Republican candidate for president”). Major candidates, and only major candidates, are eligible for inclusion in our polling averages, and we’ll write articles and analysis about only them (although we may still give minor candidates passing mentions in our coverage when merited, and our polls page still lists the percentage support for minor candidates in individual polls that ask about them).
The criteria remain very similar to those we first developed for the overcrowded 2020 Democratic primary. There are two paths for a candidate to qualify as “major” in our eyes. The first and most straightforward is to meet all four of the Republican National Committee’s requirements for qualifying for the first GOP primary debate. In other words, if you’re on that debate stage in August,1 you’re a major candidate. As a refresher, those requirements are:
- Be a constitutionally eligible, declared candidate who has filed both a statement of organization and a statement of candidacy with the FEC.
- Poll at a minimum of 1 percent in three national polls or two national polls and one poll from two of the following four states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina. The polls must meet certain methodological criteria that you can read more about here.
- Have at least 40,000 unique donors, with at least 200 each from at least 20 states or territories.
- Sign a pledge not to participate in any non-RNC-sanctioned debate, to support the eventual GOP nominee and to share their data with the RNC.
My colleague Geoffrey Skelley will be closely covering which candidates qualify for the first debate, thus becoming a FiveThirtyEight Major Candidate™ via this path. For now, though, no candidates have done so, for the simple reason that the RNC isn’t considering polls conducted before July 1. It also hasn’t been reported that any candidate has signed the loyalty pledge yet (it’s unclear if the pledge has even been written out and distributed).
So right now, candidates can only qualify as major via our second path. This path requires that a candidate has fully declared their candidacy — an exploratory committee is not enough — and meets at least five of nine other criteria:2
- They are running to win. As opposed to running just to draw attention to their pet issue. We’ll take the candidate’s word on this, so this is a very easy threshold to meet: Just saying “I’m running to win” or “when I’m president …” is sufficient.
- They have hired at least three full-time paid staffers. Or equivalents, such as consultants.
- They are routinely campaigning outside their home state. We define “routinely campaigning” as holding more than one public campaign event in the past 30 days, with the oldest and most recent events at least one week apart. In other words, it wouldn’t count if a candidate holds two campaign events on one weekend in Iowa. But it would count if a candidate holds eight campaign events on eight consecutive days, or if they hold one event on July 1 and one event on July 29.
- They are included as a named option by at least half of pollsters. This includes any FiveThirtyEight-sanctioned pollster that has conducted a national or state poll of the Republican primary in the past 30 days. A candidate need only be included in one of a pollster’s polls over that time frame.
- They get at least half as much media coverage as the median candidate who has met the RNC standards for the first debate.3 This is based on the number of online news stories in Media Cloud’s “United States – National” and “United States – State and Local” collections that mentioned each candidate over the past 30 days.
- They get at least half as much search traffic as the median candidate who has met the RNC standards for the first debate.4 This is based on the number of Google searches for each candidate’s “topic” — not their verbatim search term — in the U.S. over the past 30 days, according to Google Trends.
- They receive at least one noteworthy endorsement. We define a “noteworthy” endorser as someone we’re tracking on our 2024 endorsement tracker.
- They have held any public office. This can include either elected or appointed office.
- They have held a major public office. By this we mean president, vice president, U.S. senator, U.S. representative, governor, mayor of a city of at least 300,000 people or member of a presidential Cabinet.
These criteria are not gospel; it’s perfectly legitimate for a different media outlet to have higher or lower standards. But we think our standards strike a good balance between being fairly easy to meet and not just letting any old rogue into the club. For instance, the first three criteria are completely within the candidate’s own control. That means holders of major public office (who also meet the last two criteria) can qualify by putting even minimal effort into their campaign.5 And candidates without prior political experience can qualify by meeting those first three criteria and meeting just two of criteria Nos. 4 through 7 — a non-trivial but attainable bar to clear.
So now for the question you’ve been wondering about: Which Republicans meet our definition of a major candidate?
|Candidate||Running to win||≥3 staffers||Campaign events||PUBLIC POLL PRESENCE||Enough Media Coverage||Googled Enough||Notable Endorsement||Held Public Office||Held Major Public Office|
Trump, DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott are slam dunks: They meet nine out of nine criteria. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also easily qualifies, meeting all of the criteria except endorsements. After that:
- Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson meets seven criteria. The two blemishes on his ledger: No one notable has endorsed him, and he isn’t being Googled very much.
- Having never held public office before, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy is at more of a disadvantage in our schema, but he manages to meet six criteria. He’s running to win, has around 40 full-time staffers and is (very) actively campaigning. Those efforts have paid off, as he’s now included in a majority of polls, is getting a decent amount of media coverage and is Googled almost as often as Pence.
- North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum just qualifies, with five criteria met. He’s running to win, and as a governor, he meets both résumé-based criteria. He’s gotten off to a slow start on the stump, so he doesn’t meet the campaign-event criterion yet, but he does have a couple of endorsements and a robust staff.
- Miami Mayor Francis Suarez also barely makes the cut. Since Miami has almost 450,000 residents, he meets both the office and major-office criteria. He’s running to win, he has held campaign events on consecutive Fridays and his campaign tells FiveThirtyEight it has more than 15 full-time paid staffers.
- Former Rep. Will Hurd meets only three criteria right now, but we’re provisionally considering him a major candidate under the special case outlined in footnote 5: He just announced his campaign last Thursday, so he hasn’t had time to meet five criteria yet, but we have good reason to believe that he will. Since he is a previous holder of major public office, all he needs to do is hold a couple of campaign events and hire at least three staffers.
However, all the other Republican hopefuls fall short:
- Steve Laffey, the former mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, meets three criteria. One is the “any public office” criterion, although Cranston (with only 80,000 residents) isn’t exactly a major city. And he’s apparently serious about becoming president despite not holding office since 2007. He’s also visited New Hampshire at least twice in the past month.
- Johnson and Ryan Binkley, a North Texas pastor who jumped into the race in April, also satisfy three criteria. They’re both running to win, and they’ve both been actively campaigning in Iowa. A spokesperson for Johnson also told FiveThirtyEight that he has “14 full-time staff members and advisers,” while Binkley’s campaign says it has “nearly two dozen” full-time staffers.
- Elder meets at least two criteria: He thinks he can win, and he held campaign events on June 3 and June 15. His campaign has not responded to our inquiries about how many staffers it has.
- Former Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton is also running — in fact, he was one of the first to jump in — but he also meets just two criteria: He’s trying to win, and he has held public office before. We were unable to confirm whether he had more than three staffers or has held any recent campaign events.
Count ’em all up, and there are 11 major Republican candidates for president by our definition. So congratulations, NPR — you win the pop quiz!
CORRECTION (July 18, 2023, 3:30 p.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Republican presidential candidates could qualify for the August debate by polling at a minimum of 1 percent in two qualifying national polls and one qualifying poll of an early state. In fact, candidates must hit at least 1 percent in two qualifying national polls as well as two qualifying polls from two different early states.