Republican Asa Hutchinson ends 2024 presidential campaign

The decision came after a dismal performance in the Iowa caucuses.

January 16, 2024, 10:45 AM

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is ending his 2024 race for president after a dismal sixth-place showing in the Iowa caucuses underscored how little he had been embraced by Republican voters.

With 99% of the expected results in, Hutchinson secured just 191 votes in the Iowa caucuses and zero pledged delegates as of Tuesday morning, appearing to underperform his .07% polling average in the Hawkeye State and trailing little-known pastor Ryan Binkley, who has no national profile to speak of.

"My message of being a principled Republican with experience and telling the truth about the current front runner did not sell in Iowa," Hutchinson said in a statement, referring to Donald Trump. "I stand by the campaign I ran. I answered every question, sounded the warning to the GOP about the risks in 2024 and presented hope for our country’s future."

Hutchinson said he had congratulated Trump on the latter's victory in Iowa and added, "[My wife] Susan and I are blessed beyond measure, and we are grateful for the opportunity to have fought in the political arena for America."

Heading into Iowa's contest, Hutchinson had wanted to make it into the top four and beat businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, who has since dropped out.

Since launching his campaign in April 2023, Hutchinson never managed to build significant momentum in the polls or with donors and he failed to meet the requirements for each of the Republican primary debates following the first stage last August.

He initially vowed to stay in the race through Thanksgiving, testing to see whether he would break 4% in an early voting state, a goal he did not meet.

But he kept his bid going well beyond that self-imposed deadline -- holding dozens of Iowa meet-and-greets in what he called a "Return to Normal" tour during what would be his campaign's final weeks.

"It's important to have an alternative voice," he told ABC News at a diner in Des Moines on Monday. "There's storm clouds that are gathering over a Trump candidacy -- and we need to be forewarned about that could lead us to disaster up and down the ticket later this year."

Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's fall banquet, Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Bryon Houlgrave/AP

Hutchinson was the first GOP candidate to call for former President Trump to step aside, arguing Trump's campaign and his many legal issues distract from the issues facing Americans. (Trump denies all wrongdoing.) Hutchinson ultimately outlasted former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had a similar message to conservative voters and similarly failed to persuade many of them.

"We don't need to go down the path of Donald Trump for another four years. It will destroy the party," Hutchinson told reporters in September in New Hampshire, faced with questions on whether he'd drop out. "I'm fighting for things that are important to me and to our country -- things I fought for for 40 years -- and so you don't give up on that lightly."

Lacking the name recognition of some of his rivals, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Hutchinson campaigned as what he called a "consistent conservative." But crowds did not flock to him: Campaign events across key early-voting states might see a dozen attendees, or as little as two.

"Even if you find six people there, I enjoy it, because you have a question and answer, you get to know them," he said at a press conference over the summer in Washington, D.C.

Hutchinson was hoping to outlast Trump -- whom he supported while governor of Arkansas but broke from after Jan. 6, 2021 -- betting that, between multiple criminal indictments and other baggage, the former president would be toppled by external forces or sour with voters.

But with Trump winning the Iowa caucuses and Hutchinson failing to receive any delegates, he finally called it quits.

"If [Hutchinson] had asked me, I would have advised him not to run," said Layne Provine, a political consultant to Republicans across the South. "It's not anything against him personally, it's just that his politics don't match the politics of the moment. It's not where the Republican voters are now."

Full committee hearing on the nomination of Asa Hutchinson to be undersecretary for Border and Transportationc of the Homeland Security Department.
Douglas Graham/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, FILE

Branding his 'breadth of experience'

On the trail, towering but soft-spoken, often in a suit or, sometimes, a white "Asa for America" baseball cap, Hutchinson would humbly introduce himself to dinergoers and festival-attendees in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire who did not recognize him -- or had never heard of him before.

He would tell them his presidential bid brings "a breadth of experience unmatched in this race" and recall he began his career in public service when President Ronald Reagan appointed him the youngest U.S. attorney in the nation.

He would not mention his failed bid to the U.S. Senate -- a campaign he began from the same steps in Arkansas where he launched his presidential run -- but he'd talk about his three terms in the U.S. House, before then-President George W. Bush. appointed him to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration, and later, to serve as the nation's first undersecretary of homeland security for border protection.

But resumes don't always resonate with voters, and Hutchinson's traditional experience and approach seemed out of step with where the party's base wants to go, some observers said.

"I don't think there's anything he could have done," said Barry Bennett, Ben Carson's 2016 presidential campaign manager and later an outside adviser to Trump. "I don't think he made any mistakes. The electorate is just really angry, especially with Washington, and they're looking for a fight. And that's just not Asa's nature."

'Too normal' to be running?

Hutchinson stuck to familiar conservative policies -- building a strong national defense, lowering the deficit, securing the border and increasing U.S. energy production -- as opposed to feeding on culture war issues.

In his campaign launch, he promised to create an independent commission to study the future of Social Security and Medicare and to lift penalties for people who continue working after the age of 62, insisting the programs need reform. He also vowed to reduce the federal civilian workforce by 10% and to expand computer science education into every grade school, initiatives he pushed as governor, too.

He released several policy proposals on the trail: One was a plan to overhaul federal law enforcement through restructuring, to increase transparency, and another was to allow states to implement work-visa programs to aid with the flow of legal immigration.

Hutchinson also denounced voices within the GOP calling to defund federal law enforcement and to impeach President Joe Biden, unpopular positions among those in the party's "MAGA" base claiming a "two-tiered justice system" in light of Trump's prosecutions.

"The GOP is under threat today," he told Iowans at an event last July. "As it stands right now, you will be voting in Iowa while multiple criminal cases are pending against former President Trump. Iowa has an opportunity to say, 'We as a party, we need a new direction for America and for the GOP.'"

That wasn't the only time he gave such a warning -- and not the only time he was booed for it, either.

"As someone who has been in the courtroom for over 25 years as a federal prosecutor and also in defending some of the most serious federal criminal cases, I can say that there is a significant likelihood that Donald Trump will be found guilty by a jury on a felony offense next year," he said in Orlando in November.

Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, right, speaks with Billy Wilson, of the Iowa Firearms Coalition, at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's fall banquet, Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Bryon Houlgrave/AP

"As a party, we must support the rule of law. We cannot win as a country without the integrity of the White House," he said. "And while some will ignore the destructive behavior of the former president, I assure you we ignore it at our own peril."

He'd often tell a story in his stump speech about a voter telling him he seemed "too normal" to be running for president, inspiring the name of his final campaign tour, but potentially also the reason he didn't catch on, some said.

"It's not only what people are looking for, but we are, in essence, running with an incumbent president inside the primary," said Ed Brookover, a Republican consultant who advised Carson and Trump's campaigns in the 2016 cycle. "I think that many Republican candidates for president misread the strength of President Trump in this primary."

"If it had been more of an open seat, Gov. Hutchinson may have had a better opportunity at that," he added.

It's unclear whether this will be the end of Hutchinson's career in public service -- or if he'll endorse another candidate for president.

"The one thing about running for president is there is no losing," Bennett, the former Carson campaign manager, told ABC News. "He may not have succeeded, but he's better known, better liked and better positioned for whatever he wants to do next."

ABC News' Oren Oppenheim contributed to this report.

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