Paul, Fiorina excluded from main stage in Thursday’s GOP debate – Politico
Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina have been booted to the undercard in Thursday night’s Republican primary debate as the number of main-stage candidates was cut to seven by stricter polling criteria.
Paul, who is struggling to gain traction in the presidential race, immediately cried foul, and vowed to not participate in the event.
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Fox Business Network, which will televise the sixth GOP presidential debate this week, announced the debate fields on Monday evening, after weeks of speculation that Paul would for the first time not make the cut for the primetime event. The seven candidates who will appear on the main stage in North Charleston, S.C., are Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich. Kasich qualified as a result of his strength in New Hampshire.
Paul and Fiorina are set to join Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum in the undercard — if Paul decides to participate. The Kentucky senator told CNN Monday evening, just before the official announcement, that Fox Business had made “a mistake,” and he wouldn’t attend.
“We will not participate in anything that’s not first-tier,” Paul said. His campaign confirmed to POLITICO that he will sit out Thursday’s debate.
His campaign elaborated in a statement that multiple polls showed him well within the network’s criteria for qualifying, and contended that the margins of error in polls make them a poor tool for determining who makes the main stage.
“To exclude candidates on faulty analysis is to disenfranchise the voter,” the statement said. “Creating ‘tiers’ based on electoral results of real votes might make sense but creating ‘tiers’ on bad science is irresponsible.”
Regardless of whether he takes part in the undercard debate, the downgrade could be a crippling blow for Paul — who has insisted that he would remain in the race through the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, even though he also faces a reelection campaign this year for his Senate seat.
In an interview with POLITICO last week, Paul called for organizers to abolish the earlier undercard debate. “I’m not sure what the purpose is anymore, if there ever was one,” Paul said.
The Paul camp has fought hard to keep its candidate on the main stage, where he has appeared for the prior five debates. Earlier Monday, the campaign released a memo stating that “multiple national polls” have the Kentucky senator “in 5th or 6th place” — even though he’s in seventh place in the average nationally and in both early states. “By any reasonable criteria Senator Paul has a top-tier campaign and has qualified for the stage,” the memo said.
But it was clear that Paul didn’t meet the criteria Fox Business had outlined prior to Monday’s qualification deadline. The network said it would average the five most recent polls nationally, and in both Iowa and New Hampshire. The top six candidates nationally would qualify – and if any other candidate appeared in the top five in either early state, they would be added.
Paul was in seventh place nationally and in both early states, according to POLITICO’s calculations.
Fox Business outlined specifically which polls were used in a subsequent statement to reporters, saying the outlet used “the most recent national and state polls from non-partisan, nationally-recognized organizations using standard methodological techniques.”
It’s the second time Paul has flirted with being demoted to the undercard. Paul was shoe-horned into the last debate by CNN, which tweaked its criteria “in the spirit of being as inclusive as possible” to include Paul on the main stage, even though his poll numbers didn’t meet the network’s criteria.
And for the second debate back in September, CNN added criteria to benefit Fiorina after it became clear that Fiorina’s surge in the polls after her performance in the first undercard debate wouldn’t be sufficient to land her on the main stage for the second gathering. That was because CNN’s averages included a large number of polls conducted prior to the first debate.
Fiorina had not been as vocal as Paul, however, about her own predicted downgrade for the upcoming debate.
When Paul was on the verge of getting bumped down from the main stage last month, he said that he would make some kind of “announcement” if he was relegated to the lower debate.
Paul aides, however, stressed that that did not mean he was dropping out.
Still, Paul’s repeated teetering on the edge of qualifying for the main stage is in stark contrast with the position from which he began the campaign, featured on the cover of Time magazine with the tagline “The Most Interesting Man In Politics.”
The actual campaign season has been harsher to Paul’s campaign, which has suffered from lackluster fundraising and equally disappointing polling. Paul raised just $2.5 million in the most recently reported quarter – a big drop from the $7 million he pulled in during the previous quarter. His libertarian message, already failing to strike a chord with voters, became sharply out of synch with the GOP primary electorate after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
Paul has maintained that most polls don’t sufficiently show his campaign’s momentum and shouldn’t be used to determine who gets into the debates.
“I think if you have a national campaign, you’ve raised a significant amount of money, you’re on the ballot, you’ve employed staff and you’re actively campaigning, you’ve got to be in the debate,” Paul said last week.