Former Vice President Mike Pence’s 2024 campaign faces a potentially existential cash squeeze, with debt already piling up.
The campaign told NBC News it will report having raised $3.3 million in the third quarter, with $1.2 million cash on hand and $620,000 in debt, when its campaign finance filing is due to be made public Sunday. Pence himself chipped in $150,000 from his personal funds, the campaign said.
Pence’s numbers reveal a campaign under serious strain, operating on completely different financial terrain from that of his rivals, and they raise questions about his ability to continue to compete in the GOP primaries. Racking up debt, in particular, has long been a sign of presidential campaigns in trouble — and potentially on the verge of ending.
The last GOP presidential primary season offers an ominous parallel from this moment eight years ago: Then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign reported just under $1 million in the bank and $161,000 in debt at the end of the third quarter of 2015, the equivalent moment in that election cycle. That's when he dropped out of the race.
The next campaign finance report Walker’s suspended campaign filed made it clear how rapidly things could spiral. The report, covering the final three months of 2015, showed his campaign needed to deal with more than $1.2 million in debt. It took Walker a year to raise the money to retire the debt.
This year, Pence’s cash position compares unfavorably with those of rivals he once served with in Washington: Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s campaign has said it finished the third quarter with $9.1 million to spend on the 2024 primaries, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign announced it has banked $5 million. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina has been spending heavily, but he also came into his 2024 bid with a well-stocked federal campaign account built up over years in the Senate.
Former President Donald Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, said it had nearly $36 million available to spend on the 2024 primaries. All of those figures are based on campaign announcements and cannot be independently verified until the campaigns file reports with the Federal Election Commission, which are due by the end of Sunday.
Meanwhile, Pence’s $1.2 million in the bank limits what the campaign can do. And at least $200,000 of it is not actually usable during the primary season and would be available only in the general election, according to an NBC News analysis of his second-quarter financial report. That’s because it was raised from donors who had already given the maximum amount for the primary campaign.
It’s unclear how much more of the third-quarter money Pence raised is also unavailable for the primaries. The campaign declined to offer additional details.
The state of Pence’s campaign finances is coming out in the dash to make the third Republican primary debate on Nov. 8. The Republican National Committee’s criteria for candidates include racking up 70,000 individual donors to qualify for the stage. Pence faced a scramble to make the first debate, hitting the threshold for the contest a few weeks before it.
Pence’s campaign did not reveal the number of donors it has accrued, and it has not commented on where he stands with regard to the third debate criteria. But the low dollar amount indicates Pence may face another serious climb to be able to participate. He has hit the polling threshold, but he's lagging in fifth place in the FiveThirtyEight average of national polls, and further back in the Iowa polling average.
Pence has been running on “traditional conservative values” and holding himself up as a champion of those values — sometimes in opposition to Trump, his onetime running mate. He has been speaking regularly about having done his duty and upheld his oath to the Constitution on Jan. 6, 2021, when he certified the 2020 election results despite pressure from Trump. He has been preaching about the need for a strong and engaged America on the global stage, calling out Trump and others for their comments about the war between Russia and Ukraine, abortion policy and more.
There may have been a time when the GOP would have celebrated Pence’s Reagan-era principles. Instead, his poll numbers have stagnated, and his party appears to have turned in another direction.