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WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd did not qualify for the first Republican presidential debate this Wednesday as the Texan continues to struggle to build momentum.
Hurd’s performance in a series of polls fell short of requirements for getting on the debate stage. But he also refused to pledge his support for the eventual Republican nominee, another prerequisite.
Hurd has long been a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner who said on his social media platform that he will not participate in the debate.
“I have said from day one of my candidacy that I will not sign a blood oath to Donald Trump,” Hurd said in a Tuesday statement. “The biggest difference between me and every single candidate who will be on the debate stage in Milwaukee is that I never bent the knee to Trump.”
Hurd, a former border-district representative running as a moderate, acknowledged early that he was a “dark horse candidate” in a primary filled with big-name conservatives.
To participate in Wednesday’s debate in Milwaukee, candidates must have support from at least 1% of participants in a series of qualifying polls since July 1, have at least 40,000 unique donors and agree to support the Republican nominee.
Hurd criticized the standards as arbitrary, unclear and inconsistent.
“The RNC discounted polls that included independents and Democrats willing to vote for a Republican,” he said. “If the GOP is looking to grow our electorate and beat Joe Biden, then we better have a clear understanding of what qualifies as a likely Republican voter.”
Wednesday’s debate stage will feature Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and four others who met participation requirements set by the Republican National Committee.
Hurd is the only Texan with experience in elected office to have formally announced a campaign for the White House. Other early potential contenders, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott, allowed the speculation to fizzle out, focusing instead on their current offices. Dallas-area businessman and pastor Ryan Binkley also announced his candidacy last spring.
Hurd came close to making the debate threshold, tweeting last Thursday that he had reached the donor requirement.
He had also hoped the RNC would reconsider the loyalty pledge given Trump’s own refusal to sign it.
“A lot can happen in the next 10 days, and so I want to be able to force that conversation and see what happens,” Hurd said in an Aug. 13 CNN interview. “And if Donald Trump doesn’t participate, what is the RNC going to do? So there’s a lot of variables at play here.”
Hurd remains far behind Trump, who has maintained a firm grip on his party despite criminal indictments in four cases. Among Republican voters, Trump steadily polls above 50%, according to a FiveThirtyEight polling aggregate. Hurd, meanwhile, has not topped 0.3%.
But Hurd projected confidence in the weeks leading up to the debate, imploring voters during interviews to donate $1 to help him meet the donor threshold. He pointed to his competitive 2014 race for the 23rd Congressional District, which he won by just over 2 percentage points against Democratic incumbent Rep. Pete Gallego, as proof that he could be a viable candidate.
“Anybody who thinks that these are overwhelming odds, I would tell them I disagree with them. Nobody thought a Black Republican could win in a 72% Latino district on 820 miles of the border,” Hurd said in the CBS interview. “But it happened, because I showed up to places that people didn't expect me to be.”
Hurd entered the presidential race in June as a moderate alternative to the leading Republican contenders, leaning into his national security experience as an undercover CIA operative for 10 years before running for Congress. He was also noted for his bipartisanship in Congress, particularly with a livestreamed drive with Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke from Texas to Washington in 2017.
In one of his qualifying polls, 8% of respondents identifying as Democrats or independents said they had a favorable opinion of Hurd, while 7% of Republicans said the same. That poll was conducted last month in New Hampshire, where Hurd has been aggressively campaigning ahead of the state’s primary.
Hurd argues that his support will increase in the general election, telling NPR last month that Republicans have pushed the “lunatic fringes” to the fore, but that strategy doesn’t reflect most voters.
“Only 23% of Americans vote in primaries. The other 77% — part of them are like, ‘We’re sick and tired of everybody. Everybody are a bunch of morons,’ and they’re not being spoken to about their issues,” he told NPR.
Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.
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