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VERIFY: Why do candidates suspend their campaigns instead of dropping out?

Candidates suspending their campaigns are ultimately just ending them, so why not just say that?
Credit: AP
Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer announces the end of his presidential campaign following the results of the South Carolina primary on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

“So tonight, I am making the difficult decision to suspend my campaign for the presidency,” Pete Buttigieg said when he ended his campaign this weekend.

"I said if I didn't see a path to winning, that I'd suspend my campaign," Tom Steyer said following the South Carolina primaries.

That phrase, “I am suspending my campaign,” is one you’ve probably heard so much that you don’t even give it a second thought anymore.

But the frequency in which you hear it is probably the reason you should give it a second thought.

Candidates rarely announce they’re ending their campaign, dropping out of the race or anything else that sounds more definitive.

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So why don’t they just say they’re ending their campaign?

THE QUESTION

What does it mean for a candidate to “suspend” their campaign as opposed to dropping out?

THE ANSWER

Technically, by suspending their campaign, candidates haven’t actually ended it -- at least not on paper. 

Suspended campaigns can still continue some campaign operations and can be “revived” in later elections.

WHAT WE FOUND

A “suspended” campaign isn’t technically terminated, at least not according to the Federal Election Commission’s rules.

For a candidate to terminate their campaign committee, they must no longer be receiving (or intend to be receiving) contributions and they must no longer make (or intend to make) expenditures.

Additionally, the FEC allows candidates to use the same campaign committee in future elections. If that’s the candidate’s plan, they may not seek to terminate their campaign.

However, the legal status of their campaign committee doesn’t necessarily have to be reflected in a concession speech. If a candidate is dropping out of an election then they’re dropping out of an election.

Candidates want to leave themselves open to a return if they see an opportunity, at least according to the many political blogs across the web that have tried to explain this trend. Should something drastic happen that may allow them to return to the campaign, then they don’t want to make the demise of their campaign sound final.

Even former presidential speechwriters have said the phrase has a better ring to it in a concession speech than saying you’re dropping out.

“You really have to - never take responsibility, never have to admit you've quit or lost or the voters don't want you anymore,” Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, told NPR

Regardless, their campaigns are effectively over. Candidates rarely bring back campaigns they’ve suspended unless they say so before the suspension. An example, John McCain temporarily suspended his 2008 campaign to address the financial crisis while in Congress.

It’s unlikely any candidate suspending their 2020 campaign for president will return to the race.

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