The field of White House candidates keeps dwindling as one presidential hopeful after another pulls out of the race. Yet the candidates inevitably say they are “suspending” their campaigns, not ending them.
The choice of language is purposeful and motivated by both political and financial calculations.
Under election law, the term “suspend” has no formal meaning. The Federal Election Commission still considers candidates who have suspended their campaign to be running. The FEC won’t formally recognize the termination of a campaign until candidates have paid off all of their debts and obligations and agree not to receive any more contributions. Until then, the candidate is still running and will still appear on ballots.
The financial implications can be significant. And as long as a campaign is open, candidates can continue receiving contributions that they can put toward any outstanding debt.
It takes time to wind down a campaign, too. Offices must be closed, salaries must be paid and rents need to be covered, among other obligations. Once a campaign is suspended, candidates sometimes ask the public to donate in order to help pay off campaign debts.
Candidates with a suspended campaign can also continue receiving federal matching funds. Those matching funds are less of a factor these days when so many presidential candidates opt out of public financing because of the financial limitations involved, but the ability to continue to raise money toward campaign debts and expenses is key at a time when the costs of mounting a campaign continue to climb.
In terms of the politics involved, suspending a campaign instead of terminating it also leaves the candidate the option to revive their bid. If the candidate senses an opening as the race continues — if a frontrunner stumbles or unexpectedly drops out — the candidate still has the ability to jump back in.
Candidates who suspend their campaigns also still hold on to their pledged delegates and are able to direct those votes to one of the other candidates — a potentially powerful bargaining chip. Candidates who completely drop out of a race must forfeit any delegates they have.