IMAGE: Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore
Charlie Neibergall  /  AP
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore formally dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination Saturday.
updated 7/19/2007 12:04:46 PM ET 2007-07-19T16:04:46

The end came quickly, and quietly, for Jim Gilmore, the former Virginia governor, who withdrew via email [PDF] from the 2008 presidential race last Saturday. Even over a slow news weekend, Gilmore's move drew scant mention on the Sunday morning talk-shows or Monday newspapers. Indeed, the biggest impact of his withdrawal, coupled with widespread predictions of John McCain's imminent demise, might be to remind us that, in fact, the field of candidates running for president will surely narrow considerably before the first votes are cast next winter.

The capital is riven this week by debate over a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and its impact on 2008. But there's another timetable worth watching that will have an even greater effect on the race: In what order will candidates quit the race, and how will each withdrawal change the dynamics of the campaign?

Here's my best educated guess on how this could play out (starting with candidates most likely to drop out soonest):

Joe Biden: In a moment of characteristic candor, Biden, who raised a disappointing $2 million between April 1 and June 30 and continues to lag in early-state polls, recently acknowledgedan increasing level of frustration with his campaign’s lack of upward mobility. "What can I do to get myself on the top tier? I don't know what the hell I'm gonna do," he said last weekend while campaigning in Iowa.

Prediction: Concluding that a long-shot presidential bid proves to be an unnecessary distraction from his Senate responsibilities, Biden quits before the race heats up in earnest this fall.

Chris Dodd: Although he is slightly more successful than Biden in the money chase, Dodd is also fielding near-constant questions about his continued inability to vault into the top tier. The media covered his recent appearances in Iowa with singer-songwriter Paul Simon, but headline writers had the last laugh: "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," read one; "Anyway You Look At This, You Lose," read another.

Still, unlike Biden, Dodd remains publicly undaunted. "This isn't about celebrity and raising money," he insisted Monday in New Hampshire. In Iowa recently, he said, "Voters will let you know in no uncertain terms if they're not going to be there for you. I haven't been getting that reaction. I don't believe in making a fool's errand."

Prediction: Dodd holds on through New Hampshire. But, barring a third-place finish at least, he leaves the race later that week.

Bill Richardson: The Richardson boomlet is apparently under way. Jumping from four to 10 points in New Hampshire since April, Richardson, despite mediocre performances at the early debates, has surpassed John Edwards and vaulted into the Granite State's top tier. Following the widely praised debut of his TV ad campaign, he aired a new round this week featuring him, in jeans and a workshirt, saying, "We have to end this war now." With a New Mexico landscape in the background, the spot puts Richardson a million miles away from the Senate all-nighter that made it hard this week for four of his rivals to match his "outsider" creds. And he has $7 million-plus in the bank.

Prediction:He remains in the race until mid-February, when he withdraws and launches an aggressive campaign for vice president.

John Edwards: Several unpredictable factors could influence the future of Edwards' campaign, including his wife Elizabeth's health and energy level. Edwards, whose fortunes improved dramatically in 2004 following his surprise second-place finish in Iowa, is virtually certain to remain in the race through the Feb. 5 primaries. Still, his struggle to hold his top-tier status appears increasingly uphill.

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Take his poverty tour this week, for example. This was an aggressive bid for the African-American vote, but even his supporters acknowledge the challenge he faces in a race against Barack Obama. "Edwards is the only one who has shown interest," James Figgs, an Edwards supporter from Mississippi, told reportersMonday. "But if Obama comes, because he's an African-American, he'll probably win here."

Prediction: Edwards withdraws in mid-February.

Dennis Kucinich: As in 2004, when he remained a thorn in John Kerry's side until three days before the Democratic National Convention, Kucinich shows no signs of letting a lack of national support or fundraising success discourage him from remaining in the race. Like 2004, when he stayed in the race to give voice to the party's antiwar liberals, he remains the only Democrat advocating the impeachment of Dick Cheney and immediate and full withdrawal from Iraq. He'll likely use those issues as a rationale for staying put.

Prediction: Kucinich remains a candidate through the spring and early summer of 2008.

Barack Obama: Obama's long-term viability is virtually ensured by his fundraising strength and his personal appeal, if not any recent momentum (so far) discernible in national or early-state polling. Increasingly, strategists are urging him to challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton's formidable lead by highlighting key differences (other than Iraq) between the two Democratic front-runners. "Obama finally has found his presidential rhythm," Donna Brazile wrote this week in Roll Call. "With millions in the bank and lots more from where it came from, it's time he started to strut his stuff."

Prediction: The Obama-Clinton contest plays out in full force through the spring of 2008.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: As she said in her January campaign kick-off: "I'm in it to win it." And she meant it. Barring unforeseen developments prompting a hasty withdrawal -- something that can't be completely discounted in any Clinton campaign -- she will remain a powerful force in the primary.

Prediction: See Obama.

Tommy Thompson: Thompson has said he'll stick around through the Ames straw poll, but his campaign's investment in that increasingly downgraded event has dwindled to the point of a formality. Notably, as of Wednesday, he hadn't committed to attend the Texas straw poll in late August.

Prediction: Thompson withdraws in mid-August, after a disappointing showing in Ames.

Duncan Hunter: Who? Key fact: Over the first six months of 2007, Hunter raised $1.2 million. That's roughly as much as he spent last year in his House re-election.

Prediction: With virtually no organization in Iowa or New Hampshire, Hunter drops his underfunded bid this fall, devoting himself even more exclusively to appearances on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight."

Mike Huckabee: Even more so than McCain, Huckabee is hindered by a disappointing record of fundraising, a chore he openly bemoans. He raised just $750,000 during the second quarter, giving him a whopping total of $1.3 million for the campaign. He has about $700,000 in the bank.

Prediction: Huckabee holds out through Ames but quits the race later this fall.

Sam Brownback: Energized perhaps by a strong showing in Ames, Brownback could emerge as a viable alternative for the small but vocal group of social conservative activists who remain uncomfortable with top-tier candidates like Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson.

Prediction: Brownback makes it into the early primaries, but he withdraws in early February after a disappointing showing on Feb. 5.

John McCain: McCain said last weekthat nothing short of "contracting a fatal disease" would force him to quit the presidential race. And I believe him. To put it bluntly, this is the end of the road for John McCain. He'll turn 71 next month; this is his last national campaign, a reality that frees him to ignore considerations about his future political viability.

Prediction: He'll remain a candidate through the Feb. 5 primaries, but he will likely be forced to withdraw shortly afterward. (Caveat: McCain could rebound. He's done it before, and polls show he remains viable in early states like New Hampshire.)

Tom Tancredo: As he has done throughout 2007, Tancredo will maintain his presidential campaign on a shoestring budget, focusing narrowly on his pet issue of immigration reform.

Prediction: He continues to run, and draw media attention, through next spring and early summer. But he never registers beyond single digits in the polls and withdraws several weeks before the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul next summer.

Fred Thompson: Because he hasn't actually started running for president, it's a challenge to predict when he'll withdraw.

Prediction: Pass, for now.

Ron Paul: Paul has established himself as the GOP’s version of Kucinich '04, only with more money and a slightly better Internet operation.

Prediction: He'll remain in the race through the primaries, never registering double digits in polls or primaries, but continuing to give voice to his vocal minority.

Mitt Romney: John Kerry might not be an expert on GOP primary politics. But he knows Romney pretty well and, judging from Kerry's comments this week, he expects to see Romney win the GOP nomination. Charging that Romney is the real flip-flopper, Kerry said, "People are asking the question out there, 'Who is he, really?'"

Surely Kerry knew that his critique would only endear Romney to the conservatives he's aggressively courting in the GOP primary. But like many Democrats, Kerry is already preparing for a possible general-election battle with Romney. With that in mind, he's softening him up for that race this summer. Fundraising success and an organized presence in early states make it easy to see how Romney makes it into the final round.

Prediction: A Romney-Giuliani slugfest next spring.

Rudy Giuliani: On the ropes earlier this summer, Giuliani appears to have rebounded. The much-discussed video from New York City firefighters hasn't dealt him a fatal blow; he's even headlining a firefighters convention Friday in South Carolina. He's also getting good marks for his latest outreach to conservatives with his "Justice Advisory Committee."

Romney has been running circles around him in Iowa, but a new poll shows Giuliani is within seven points of him in the state. His visit there this week, David Yepsen wrote, "is a sign he and his people finally get it. They get they can win Iowa. And they get they've got to spend time in the state to do it."

Prediction: See Romney.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.


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