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Asa Hutchinson expands travel plans to new states in bid to make the second debate

The former Arkansas governor faces a sprint to boost his standing in national and state polling in order to make the second debate later this month.


Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told NBC News he has plans to visit North Carolina, Georgia and Texas in the coming weeks — going outside the well-traveled circuit of early-voting states as he tries to boost his national polling numbers.

Hutchinson says this is a “strategic decision” in order to qualify for the next debate, which will take place in California at the end of the month. 

The thresholds candidates need to meet in order to participate in the next debate are even higher than the previous one. In addition to having 50,000 unique donors and signing a pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee, candidates also need to hit 3% in either two national polls after Aug. 1 or in one national poll plus surveys from two different early-voting states.

Hutchinson has not hit the new donor or polling thresholds needed to qualify for the second debate yet. While other candidates and aligned super PACs have done national TV ad campaigns, Hutchinson has been among the weaker fundraisers in the 2024 GOP field.

All of this adds up to Hutchinson’s decision to spend time in states that do not have early nominating contests, with the imperative of staying on the debate stage competing with the strategy of going slow and steady in early states. 

Hutchinson is determined to qualify for the next debate. He said the impact of the first debate in August was “critical.” 

“It gave us momentum, both in terms of fundraising and polling numbers, but also, as I campaigned across New Hampshire, people recognize me,” Hutchinson said. “They hear your voice — ‘oh you were on the debate stage’ — and so it makes a big big difference.” 

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has reached the donor threshold needed to be on the debate stage but has not hit the required polling yet. He has a similar strategy: focus on the national audience. 

“To get our national name recognition up, we’re going to have to bump up national TV advertising,” Burgum said at an event in Rye, New Hampshire, in late August. “That doesn’t help us build relationships here in New Hampshire. It doesn’t help us get stuff in Iowa, but we’ll get it done.

One key difference: Burgum has been self-funding his campaign with millions of his own dollars, and his super PAC has been a relatively heavy spender, too.