Former Vice President Mike Pence, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott all want to be the Republican nominee for president in 2024. To do so, they will need to dethrone the GOP frontrunner and favorite, former President Donald Trump, and surge past the rest of the field.
That is not likely to happen.
At least Burgum can argue that he remains largely unknown and is only now introducing himself to Iowa caucus attendees, Granite State primary voters, and Republican activists nationally. Once they come to know him, the North Dakota governor can insist, they will rally behind his candidacy.
That’s a nice narrative, but it simply isn’t very persuasive at this point in the process.
No major party has ever nominated a presidential nominee from North Dakota, and the only presidential nominee from a state with “Dakota” in its name is the late Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, who was nominated under unusual circumstances and drew just 37.5 percent of the vote in the 1972 general election, losing to President Richard Nixon in a landslide.
Burgum likes to brag about his state’s economic story, but he rarely notes that that success stems from his state’s boom in shale oil production.
North Dakota remains the fourth-least populated state, ahead of only Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming, making the state a minimal factor in most presidential contests.
Burgum has personal wealth and has been advertising on television to boost his name recognition. But many voters won’t take him seriously simply because he comes from a state that doesn’t have to wrestle with many of the biggest, most complicated issues of the day.
Burgum is simply out of his league running for president. Joe Biden came from a small state too, but he served in the Senate for decades, and he had been vice president, as well, a full resume when he won his party’s presidential nomination in 2020.
In contrast, Burgum’s greatest assets are his wealth of just over $1 billion and his “outsider” resume.
If Burgum faces challenges, former Vice President Mike Pence has no excuse for his weak showings in polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and nationally.
Pence is in the low-to-mid single digits in most polls at this point, and his biggest problem is that Republican caucus attendees and primary voters know Pence well but aren’t excited about his candidacy.
He emphasizes his conservative ideology and record as a part of the Trump administration, but most in the GOP field have the same agenda and ideology, and Pence’s association with Trump is a mixed bag.
While he has the traditional credentials to be president, those credentials are no longer necessary to get voters excited these days, as Trump and Vivek Ramaswamy have demonstrated.
Pence, who tried (but failed) to be funny a couple of times during the GOP’s Ronald Reagan Library debate, seems like yesterday’s news, and many Trump supporters hold him in contempt for not doing more to help Trump stay in office.
A former vice president should be attracting greater support at this point. But Pence continues to be squeezed between those Republican voters who want “Donald Trump, Part 2” and those looking for a fresh face. He is neither.
Scott started his presidential bid with higher name recognition than Burgum but not nearly as well-known as Pence. But having a pulse is not something to brag about at this point in the race.
Scott is well-liked by many in his party, and nominating a Black conservative certainly has some appeal in a party that is often criticized for being insensitive to racism. Moreover, Scott has a reputation for being upbeat and forward-looking. That’s very different from Trump, who remains obsessed with refighting the 2020 election and otherwise settling scores.
But Scott’s two debate performances have been, well, mediocre. That wouldn’t be terrible except for the fact that another South Carolina conservative of color, former Gov. Nikki Haley, has been getting good reviews and inching up in the polls.
For long shots like Burgum, Pence and Scott, their biggest problem is that Trump continues to suck the oxygen out of the Republican presidential race. Burgum has had a hard time getting media attention, while GOP voters have already decided that Pence is not a viable alternative.
Scott has more potential, but he has been in two debates and has failed to move the needle in Iowa or New Hampshire. That’s not a good sign, and it suggests that the South Carolina senator has had only very limited success reaching GOP activists.
After two televised debates and months of campaigning in two key states, the Republican race has shifted little. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis seems weaker, while Haley appears stronger. But three longer shots — Burgum, Pence, and Scott — have shown little or no ability to improve their positioning.
Time is running out for them.