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CNN Just Found A Way To Get Carly Fiorina Onto The Debate Stage

Carly Fiorina's strong showing at the August Fox News debate helped boost her in the polls, meaning she could now make it into the main CNN debate.
Chip Somodevilla
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Carly Fiorina's strong showing at the August Fox News debate helped boost her in the polls, meaning she could now make it into the main CNN debate.

Carly Fiorina was relegated to the JV squad in the Fox News GOP presidential debate in August, but her strong performance that night helped her race past several of her peers in recent polls.

That surge in polling wasn't enough to get her into the next big debate — but it might be now.

That's because CNN Tuesday afternoon changed its criteria for who will get into its main Sept. 16 debate in such a way that Fiorina is much more likely to be included.

The relaxed criteria come after some hard fighting from the Fiorina campaign. In a post on Medium last week, Fiorina's deputy campaign manager, Sarah Isgur Flores, characterized CNN's old rules as "rigging the game to keep Carly off the main debate stage."

CNN's original criteria had said that the top 10 candidates, in an average of polls from July 16 through Sept. 10, would be allowed into the main debate, with the other candidates to face off in a separate debate. Fiorina is now polling among the top 10 candidates, but her recent strength since the August debate hadn't been enough to make up for her prior poor showing.

Not only that, but only three polls from CNN's approved list of pollsters had been taken since the last GOP debate. The cable TV network listed that as its main reason for changing the criteria.

"At the time [we wrote the original rules], we expected there to be many more national polls following the first Republican debate, in August, than there appears there will be," CNN said in a statement of the change. By the time of the Sept. 16 debate, there will be only five such polls.

"As a result, we now believe we should adjust the criteria to ensure the next debate best reflects the most current state of the national race," CNN added.

CNN will now allow candidates to join the main debate if they are polling in the top 10 since the first debate, according to polling averages between Aug. 7 and Sept. 10. This means there might end up being more than 10 candidates on the stage. It does not appear from CNN's new criteria that anyone could be bumped who would have previously been included.

According to NPR's analysis of the numbers, the new criteria work out to add Fiorina to the debate stage, at least for now. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would drop to the lowest of the top pack, No. 11, but still be included because he's in the top 10 since mid-July. Here's CNN:

"If the eligibility window closed today, CNN's analysis of polls conducted from July 16 shows that Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, John Kasich and Chris Christie would qualify for the top-tier debate. With today's change, Fiorina would also qualify for the top-tier debate."

Now, Fiorina just has to hold on to her new spot among the higher-polling candidates to remain on that stage.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.
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