Lincoln Chafee quits. Who's the next likely presidential dropout?

The withdrawal of Lincoln Chafee caps a winnowing week for the Democratic contenders. But the GOP side seems more likely to experience the next dropout.

Gary Cameron/Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee waves goodbye after dropping out of the presidential race at the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum's 22nd annual conference in Washington on Friday, October 23, 2015.

Lincoln Chafee said on Friday that he’s dropping out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. When reporters asked him why, he had a simple answer: “Obviously it’s a good week for Secretary Clinton,” the former Rhode Island governor said.

Mr. Chafee’s withdrawal announcement came at the start of a D.C. speech to a Democratic National Committee group. He used much of the rest of the address to advocate a United States foreign policy that is more peaceful and less interventionist.

“Do we want to be remembered as a bomber of weddings and hospitals? Or do we want to be remembered as peacemakers, as pioneers of a more harmonious world?” Chafee said.

Chafee was always the longest of the long shots vying for the Democratic nod. Though he had a lengthy Rhode Island résumé – he was a mayor, senator, and governor for the state – he was little known nationally and struggled to raise money and gain attention. His quixotic advocacy for the metric system did not help. As more than one wit pointed out, Chafee was simply not the liter America wanted.

A poor performance in the first Democratic debate did not help. After Chafee argued with moderator Anderson Cooper over whether he should have been more prepared for a key vote that occurred in his first days in the Senate, it seemed obvious his days in the race were numbered.

His withdrawal caps a winnowing week for the Democrats. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb dropped out of the party's race as well, and is now exploring a possible independent bid. Vice President Joe Biden declined to run, saying there is no longer enough time to begin a serious presidential bid.

Who’s next? The harsh demands of the pre-voting primary, where money woes and poor polls can presage an exit, seem sure to eliminate more presidential hopefuls in coming days or weeks.

On the Democratic side, the most vulnerable remaining contender is Martin O’Malley. One recent national poll had the former Maryland governor at zero, which is never a good sign. He’s not in debt yet, but he’s got only about $800,000 in cash on hand, which isn’t much for a real race.

Mr. O’Malley is probably going to hang around for at least a while, however. With the rest of the Democratic field cleared, he may hope that more attention falls to him. He’s the only remaining alternative to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, so perhaps he’ll inherit enough anti-front-runner votes to bump up in the polls. Also, he was on a number of popular talk shows this week, and even played guitar and sang a Taylor Swift song on “The View.” It would be unsurprising if he soared to 3 or 4 percent in coming surveys.

The GOP side seems more likely to experience the next dropout. The most likely candidate is former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore. Also technically at zero in the polls, Mr. Gilmore did not even make the cut for the undercard event at the next Republican debate, set for next Wednesday in Colorado. His campaign has only about $34,000 in the bank, and he’s lent it $43,000 himself. So his money situation is dire.

However, Gilmore did not make the cut for the last GOP debate, and yet he’s still technically running. He’s promoted himself as the only remaining contender who served in the military.

Other possible dropouts might come from those who did qualify for the debate undercard. They are former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Of these, Mr. Santorum and Senator Graham have policy niches that might give them a reason to stay in the race. That would allow them to promote their ideas: traditional social conservatism for Santorum and an assertive foreign policy for Graham.

Governor Jindal has also based his candidacy on traditional conservative values. But he’s also been attempting to run a more broadly based, national race – you know, as if he really wants to win. That’s expensive. And his money crunch may have arrived. In the third quarter, he was some $250,000 in the red, taking in about $580,000 while spending $830,000.

That’s a very bad sign. It would be unsurprising if Jindal soon puts his effort on hold. He’s tied for last in the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls, drawing the support of 0.3 percent of voters. (Gilmore is not included in those surveys.)

The man Jindal’s tied with is the other main contender for the next withdrawal. That would be Mr. Pataki, also at 0.3 percent. He’s running a less expensive effort than Jindal, but he’s got big money problems of his own. According to the Federal Election Commission, he’s got $13,570 in the bank, with debts of $20,000. So his campaign is broke, at the moment.

The next GOP debate is only five days away. That should be the next inflection point. Either one of the candidates above will not bother to make the trip, and call it quits, or they’ll wait to see how they do, and perhaps pull the plug in the aftermath.

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