Ramaswamy says campaign is in 'new phase' amid bigger spotlight, scrutiny -- and polling plateau
The Republican candidate had a breakout moment after the first debate.
Vivek Ramaswamy tells ABC News that he feels his campaign has entered "a new phase" eight months into his presidential bid -- as the Republican hopeful and entrepreneur has won a following among primary voters but like other candidates still trails far behind Donald Trump.
Asked about how he is changing while in California on Saturday, where he was addressing a state party convention, Ramaswamy told ABC News, "I laid the foundation, I introduced myself, started at 0.0%, no track record in politics. I had to earn my stripes as the new guy. I feel like we've done that now."
Ramaswamy, a biotech founder and commentator, launched his 2024 campaign in late February.
Despite having much less of a profile than competitors like former Vice President Mike Pence, Ramaswamy has gone on to win a spotlight in the crowded field and sits in fourth place in 538's national primary polling average.
Many likely primary voters also gave him high marks after the first debate, in August, according to a 538/Washington Post/Ipsos poll.
But that success has also drawn scrutiny, and Ramaswamy has stirred controversy outside the Republican base with his rhetoric, including harsh comments about transgender people and a pledge to try to change the U.S. Constitution to raise the minimum voting age and to end birthright citizenship for children born in America whose parents came to the country illegally.
In the final months before voting begins, with the Republican Iowa caucus in January, Ramaswamy is coming off of what polling indicates was a breakout moment at the first debate in late August. But since then, his polling nationally and in key states like Iowa seem to have plateaued.
Trump, meanwhile, remains the clear early favorite in primary surveys. Nationally, his lead has not dipped below 50% since late August, according to 538's average.
Ramaswamy's increased stature has also made him a more frequent target of criticism by his GOP rivals, as seen at the second debate in late September.
The day after the Aug. 23 debate, in Milwaukee, Ramaswamy hit a high of 10.3% nationally, according to 538's polling average.
Now, he polls nationally at just above 7%.
He argues that his path to victory lies through the early states. But in Iowa, where he has held more than 100 events, according to his campaign, Ramaswamy has hovered between an average of 5-7% for several weeks, 538 reports, far behind Trump but also trailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and, at times, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
In New Hampshire, however, where Ramaswamy also has a significant presence (and may consider an apartment soon), a poll from CNN and the University of New Hampshire published in late September placed Ramaswamy in second place behind Trump, 39-13%.
The night before the California GOP convention, Ramaswamy attended several fundraisers, some through the Ramaswamy-aligned American Exceptionalism political action committee.
While the multimillionaire has said he is "dead set" against the use of money from super PACs and megadonors, even saying he would pledge to disavow them if the rest of the Republican field did the same, he and his campaign maintain that they "have to compete" until then.
Asked by ABC News on Saturday if he communicates to prospective donors that he will not change his messaging for the sake of securing their funding, as he says at his events, Ramaswamy said, "I do. Absolutely."
"The first thing I say in fundraising meeting is 'I'd rather lose this election and speak my convictions at every step than to win by playing political snakes and ladders.' And the fact of the matter is, my cup of tea isn't for everybody," he said.
His campaign has also announced his first official "rallies" -- the first of which took place in Las Vegas on Sunday, also marking his first event in the state.
In an unusual move for the candidate, who tends to stick around to mingle with voters when time permits, Ramaswamy left his "Nevada campaign kickoff" two hours earlier than the posted end time.
"Top three [result] in Iowa, top two in New Hampshire are the bars we need to clear," Ramaswamy told reporters in Amherst, New Hampshire on Sep. 2, projecting confidence. "And I think we do that as an outsider coming in without any existing political base or anything else, that puts us on a trajectory of momentum we need to win the nomination."
"I'll be going to South Carolina and Nevada [for their primaries], but I think that for us to be on the trajectory, a clear trajectory to unambiguously win, top three in Iowa, top two in New Hampshire puts us exactly where we need to be," he said.
ABC News' Kelsey Walsh contributed to this report.