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Pence says he’s met donor requirement to make first GOP debate, urges Trump to attend

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(WASHINGTON) — Former Vice President Mike Pence has met the requirements for the first 2024 Republican primary debate, in Milwaukee on Aug. 23, his campaign said Tuesday morning.

Pence crossed the 40,000-donor threshold on Monday and became the first candidate to submit donor count verification to the Republican National Committee, according to a news release sent out by his campaign. Fox News was the first to report the development.

“Mike Pence made quick and easy work of the donor threshold and he’s looking forward to a substantive debate about the issues important to the American people,” said Pence communications adviser Devin O’Malley. “Hopefully, former President [Donald] Trump has the courage to show up.”

Pence’s team touted how he didn’t use “schemes, giveaways, or gimmicks used by other campaigns” — an apparent swipe at the techniques embraced by some other candidates — and how Pence hit the donor mark in nine weeks, a tighter turnaround than other hopefuls who say they qualified before than the former vice president, despite his much higher profile with GOP voters.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who announced his candidacy on the same day as Pence, announced he met the donor requirement three weeks ago, on July 19, but Burgum deployed an unusual strategy to help get there — handing out tens of thousands of $20 gift cards to people who donated at least $1 to his campaign.

Trump, for his part, has not committed to debating, pointing to how he already leads by double digits in early national polling. But Pence appears eager to debate his former boss, often offering a canned phrase on the campaign trail when asked about the matchup.

“Sometimes people ask me what I think about debating Donald Trump, I tell people I’ve debated Donald Trump 1,000 times, just not with the cameras on,” he said last month in Iowa.

Pence said in New Hampshire last weekend that he hopes Trump shows up but that he’s preparing to make his case to the public either way.

“I am, I think, the most consistent conservative in this race today. I’m also the most experienced candidate in this race today,” he said.

The race heats up as Trump faces three indictments, all of which he denies, often claiming political persecution. Prosecutors reject that.

The most recent indictment, in Washington, includes four criminal charges related to Trump’s push to reverse his 2020 loss and remain in power. The former president has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to that indictment last week.

The ongoing legal proceedings raise questions about what can and will be said at the Milwaukee debate about Jan. 6, since Trump was ordered not to talk about the facts of his case with anyone he knows to be a witness, such as Pence, except through counsel or in presence of counsel.

Pence is the eighth Republican candidate to say they’ve met both the polling and donor requirements required by the RNC. (The party hasn’t yet publicly confirmed who will make the debate stage and candidates have until 48 hours before the event to qualify.)

The former vice president joins Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Burgum — all of whom say they have also made the cut. (Burgum claims to have qualified based on some polls that have not yet been confirmed as meeting the RNC criteria.)

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s campaign told ABC News on Tuesday he’s closing in on 20,000 donors — but he’s is running against the clock, with only two weeks left to cross the threshold.

For his part, Hutchinson has repeatedly questioned the RNC’s qualifying criteria, arguing that the 40,000-donor threshold is too limiting for the first debate and taking issue with a pledge candidates will have to sign to support the party’s eventual nominee.

“The RNC should have minimal criteria for the debates in the early stages of this campaign. More choices are better. I have always supported the party nominee, but I have never supported a party loyalty oath. The pledge should simply be that you will not run as a third-party candidate,” Hutchinson said in a statement in June.

As Pence was working to meet the donor threshold, he called the requirement “somewhat new.”

“We accept that criteria and confident we’ll get there, but our focus is not on reaching some arbitrary goal set by the Republican National Committee,” Pence said last month in Iowa. “It’s about telling our story here in Iowa, like we were last week telling our story in New Hampshire.”

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