DES MOINES, Iowa – Jim Gilmore answers on the first ring.
“Jim Gilmore,” he said Wednesday morning, picking up the call.
The former Virginia governor is the Republican presidential candidate you probably forgot was still in the running – if you’ve heard of him at all. But he’ll have the chance to introduce himself to Americans Thursday night when he takes the stage in Des Moines, Iowa as an unexpected participant in the undercard Republican presidential debate.
This will be his second debate – he was in the undercard in the first debate back in August – but his low polling has kept him off the stage for the last five Republican presidential debates. It’s also likely Gilmore’s last shot at making a splash in a crowded primary. At best, Gilmore scores at just 1% of national polls. But in a nearly half-hour long interview with MSNBC, Gilmore argued that he just needs a bit more media coverage to win.
“If I got as much attention as Trump, I wouldn’t be an asterisk. If you’d flip these things around, he’d been an eccentric and I’d be the frontrunner,” Gilmore said. “If I had a quarter of the equal time, I’d be the frontrunner. With my credentials? You’ve got to be kidding.”
But even when he’s been covered, Gilmore has struggled to distinguish himself in the congested Republican field. After the August debate, it was an even less well-known candidate, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who broke out from the undercard debate and got herself promoted – at least temporarily – to the prime-time debate. Meanwhile, Gilmore gained little traction from his performance.
He’s also had to jockey for attention online, where he live-tweets the debates he’s been excluded from. Gilmore has less than 3,000 followers on Twitter, and he even had difficulty getting verified. (He now says he merely didn’t realize verification’s importance and easily got verified once he tried, despite his own past tweets stating the opposite.)
Gilmore found out that he’d made Thursday’s debate stage the same way the rest of us did: When Fox announced it on Tuesday. He booked his flight that night and said Wednesday morning that he isn’t sure where he’ll be staying when he gets in late Wednesday night. (A staffer later offered up that Gilmore would be at the Holiday Inn near the airport.)
Though the debate takes place in Iowa just four days before their kingmaker caucuses, Gilmore won’t be campaigning there. He said his team had already made a “strategic decision” to skip the socially conservative caucuses and is instead hopeful he’ll gain momentum in New Hampshire before its primary next week.
Gilmore said he’s been campaigning heavily in New Hampshire (according to p2016.org, he’s been there for 37 days total – less than Gov. Jeb Bush, but more than Sen. Marco Rubio) and on Monday he began a direct mail campaign promoting his key issues – national security, veterans issues, and the Second Amendment – to targeted voters. Gilmore was the governor of Virginia for just one term, all that the state allows, and briefly ran for president in 2008. He was a Republican nominee to the U.S. Senate, but lost the race to a Democrat. The one distinction he can claim? Gilmore is the only military veteran in either field.
While Gilmore doesn’t expect to win in New Hampshire, he said he hopes to “beat expectations.” And though Gilmore has perhaps already achieved part of that goal by making the undercard debate stage, another candidate – front-runner Trump – has pledged to skip the event entirely because of his objections to moderator Megyn Kelly.
“I’m not in the luxurious position he’s in – I’m pleased to have been invited,” Gilmore said. “He has the luxury of being able to choose, but what I think he’s really doing is making a statement that the establishment press can’t run his campaign …. It’s really smart.”
Despite the obvious political realities, Gilmore insists he has no plans to get out of the race anytime soon, and while many candidates campaign across Iowa on Wednesday, or sequester away to prepare for the debate, Gilmore isn’t doing either.
“I’ll be working all through the day, doing something Trump doesn’t have to do – raise money,” he said.