With 9 weeks to go until the first votes, Trump remains commanding front-runner as GOP field keeps shrinking

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It’s a slimmer field, but it’s the same story, as former President Donald Trump remains the commanding front-runner for the Republican nomination with nine weeks to go until the first votes are cast.

Sen. Tim Scott’s suspension of his White House campaign on Sunday came two weeks after former Vice President Mike Pence departed the 2024 GOP race. And four lesser known candidates who failed to make the debate stage have also dropped out, as a Republican field that once included over a dozen contenders keeps shrinking.

With the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses – which lead off the Republican presidential nomination calendar – fast approaching, Trump retains dominating double-digit leads over his nomination rivals in the latest surveys in the early voting states, and holds even larger massive advantages in national polls.

The over-arching question going forward is if the smaller field of candidates will allow one of the remaining contenders to make it a competitive race against Trump as the primary calendar progresses.

‘Nothing’s changed. Trump’s still ahead. And right now he’s on the trajectory to win,’ longtime Republican consultant Dave Carney, a veteran of numerous presidential campaigns, told Fox News.

Pointing to the single digit support Scott held in the polls as he suspended his campaign, Carney said ‘It’s not like Scott getting out of the race is going to reshuffle the deck completely. His support isn’t going to change the dynamics that much.’

But Carney also emphasized that ‘there’s no way to spin this other than its good news for Nikki Haley. We’ll see if she can take advantage of that.’

Haley, the former two-term South Carolina governor who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration, is battling two-term Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for second place in the GOP nomination race, far behind Trump.

Longtime Republican strategist David Kochel, pointing to DeSantis and Haley, told Fox News that the winnowing of the Republican field ‘is a good thing for the two people who still have a shot at becoming the Trump alternative.’

‘Trump’s already in the finals,’ said Kochel, a veteran of numerous presidential and statewide campaigns in Iowa.

And he highlighted that DeSantis and Haley are ‘trying to construct some plausible path to get a one-on-one shot with Trump that everybody agrees is essential to any notion that he can be derailed from getting the nomination.’

While DeSantis has the stronger name ID from coast to coast and leads Haley in the national polls, she’s tied DeSantis in the latest surveys in Iowa and leads him in New Hampshire – which votes second – and her home state, which holds the first southern contest.

Haley’s enjoyed a rise in the polls thanks in part to well-regarded performances in the three Republican presidential primary debates. Haley’s campaign announced on Monday that they are reserving $10 million to run TV, radio and digital ads in Iowa and New Hampshire starting next month.

‘We have plenty of money that we’re going to be on TV with,’ Haley touted this past weekend in an interview on ‘Fox News Sunday.’ ‘We’re going to be strong in New Hampshire. We’re going to be strong in South Carolina, because we spent our money well. We’ve got great ground games in every one of those states. And we’re going to keep surging.’

But Iowa comes first, and DeSantis last week landed the endorsement of GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, who’s very popular with Hawkeye State Republicans. Reynolds backing was a much-needed boost for DeSantis to alter a negative narrative.

DeSantis is also aiming to land the endorsement of Bob Vander Plaats, who leads the Family Leader, a top social conservative organization in Iowa, a state where evangelical voters play an out-sized role in Republican presidential politics.

‘Tim Scott and Mike Pence were surging resources in Iowa, looking to attract evangelical supporters, and unlike Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis is making headway with those voters,’ DeSantis campaign communications director Andrew Romeo argued in a statement to Fox News.

Kochel said ‘I think Iowa’s going to be more determinative than ever as to who’s going to have momentum going into New Hampshire and South Carolina.’

‘Trump already has a ticket. There’s maybe two more and maybe one more’ coming out of Iowa, he forecast.

And Kochel predicted ‘a pretty fierce contest’ in the weeks ahead between DeSantis and Haley. 

The 2024 GOP field also includes former two-term New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – who’s concentrating most of his firepower on New Hampshire – and multi-millionaire biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy – a 38-year-old first-time candidate who appears to draw much of his support from Trump’s MAGA wing of the party. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum – who didn’t make the stage at the third debate – and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison – who failed to qualify for the past two showdowns – are running long-shot campaigns.

Seasoned Iowa-based Republican strategist and communicator Jimmy Centers cautioned that ‘everyone needs to be clear-eyed that former President Trump will win the Iowa caucus on Jan. 15.’

‘The question is whether Gov. DeSantis or Amb. Haley come in a strong enough second place finish where they put a sizable gap between themselves and whomever comes in third to be able to say to Republicans in New Hampshire and beyond that this is a two-person race,’ he spotlighted.

Centers said Haley ‘has clearly performed very well’ since the start of the debates ‘and voters are responding to that in Iowa.’

But he added that DeSantis enjoys some ‘momentum right now after Gov. Reynolds endorsement last week.’

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