March 4, 2024

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced Monday he is suspending his campaign for president, making him the latest candidate to bow out ahead of actual voting in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mr. Burgum decided to withdraw after failing to gain traction in polls and failing to qualify for GOP primary debates. He slammed “clubhouse” Republican National Committee criteria for putting national attitudes over “engaged” voters in early primary states.

“These arbitrary criteria ensure advantages for candidates from major media markets on the coast versus America’s heartland,” he said.

Mr. Burgum’s exit reflects growing pressure on GOP candidates to accept that former President Donald Trump is dominating in the race and a few candidates have a narrow path to catch up to him when voting begins in January.

The fourth GOP debate on Wednesday is likely to feature four candidates — down from five in the third debate — after Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina acknowledged that he wasn’t the voters’ first choice and stopped campaigning in November.

The debate will be held at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and moderated by Megyn Kelly, Elizabeth Vargas of NewsNation and Eliana Johnson, editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon.

With Mr. Trump refusing to debate, that leaves Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the probable combatants before the Republican National Committee confirms the field.

To qualify for the showdown, candidates had to have 80,000 donors and 6% support in two national polls, or that level of support in a national poll and a poll from an early primary state.

The RNC will announce the official slate of participants early this week. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, another low-polling candidate, remains in the race but will face pressure to depart or stumble along after missing out on key debates.

Among debate participants, Mr. Christie has traction in New Hampshire but the vocal Trump critic will face pressure to reconsider his prospects if he doesn’t perform well in the Jan. 23 primary.

He is struggling to get 3% in FiveThirtyEight’s average of available polls compared to about 5% for Mr. Ramaswamy, 10% for Ms. Haley and 13% for Mr. DeSantis.

Mr. Trump dominates the field in the polling average, at roughly 58%, while Ms. Haley is trying to position herself as the prime alternative instead of Mr. DeSantis. She recently attracted support from JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Americans for Prosperity Action, a part of the powerful Koch network.

“The entire GOP field seems to be consolidating with several contenders seeking to become the alternative to Trump,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “Haley seems to be in the best position to get a one-on-one fight against Trump. DeSantis has faded and Christie has a message most Republicans don’t want to hear.”

Mr. Burgum decided it wasn’t worth continuing his campaign, though he pledged to remain focused on the issues that animated his bid.

“We remain committed to improving the lives of every American by moving America 180 degrees in the opposite direction of Joe Biden on three critical issues — the economy, energy and national security,” Mr. Burgum said.

The Democratic National Committee wryly thanked him for eating up donor dollars and accused him of using chicanery — gift cards, in this instance — to qualify for the first debate.

“It turns out that buying your way onto the debate stage to tout an extreme anti-abortion agenda can only barely bring you to the cusp of relevance,” DNC spokeswoman Sarafina Chitika said. “We thank Doug for doing his part to light millions of GOP dollars on fire to burn into voters’ minds just how extreme today’s Republican Party is.”

Other, higher-polling candidates are eyeing shake-ups as Iowa voters get set to have their say in the first-in-nation caucus in little over a month.

Three senior members of a super PAC backing Mr. DeSantis opted to leave over the weekend, The Associated Press reported.

The group, Never Back Down, told the wire service it still has “the most organized, advanced caucus operation of anyone in the 2024 primary field.”