Fox, CNN Set Criteria for First GOP Debates

Fox, CNN Set Criteria for First GOP Debates
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The big debate about the Republican presidential debates is over – at least for the first two rounds.

Facing the unprecedented dilemma of having more candidates (19, plus or minus) than a single stage can reasonably bear, Fox News and CNN, the networks hosting the first two debates, came up with two different approaches.

Fox will accept the top 10 contenders, based on their poll numbers, for the first debate in Cleveland Aug. 6. Entrants must have formally registered for a presidential campaign with the Federal Election Commission and have paid all necessary federal and state filing fees.

CNN announced a two-tier system for its Sept. 16 debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The top 10 candidates will debate in one group, and the remaining candidates will face off in another. Each candidate must poll at 1 percent or higher. CNN requires debate participants to have at least one paid campaign staffer in two of the early voting states and have visited two of those states at least once.

The polling threshold for the Fox debate threatens to cut from the debate stage a handful of candidates, including some who represent the diversity the party would like to showcase as it seeks to broaden its electoral appeal.

While polling will change between now and August, the RealClearPolitics average shows that Carly Fiorina, who announced her campaign earlier this month, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is forming an exploratory committee, would not make the cut. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is expected to announce his campaign next month, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering a bid, would also be excluded. These four contenders are all polling at or below 2 percent.

Fox News seemed to recognize the potential controversy of excluding some candidates, pledging to provide additional coverage and airtime on the day of the debate for candidates who do not place in the top 10.

The RCP polling average does not include Donald Trump, who is again flirting with a presidential bid. In some surveys, Trump places high enough to be included on the stage, according to the polling requirements. Still, he would have had to officially establish a campaign, which he has yet to do.

The Republican National Committee supported the decision by Fox to limit the number of candidates. “We support and respect the decision Fox has made, which will match the greatest number of candidates we have ever had on a debate stage,” said Chairman Reince Priebus.

No party has had more than 10 candidates on the debate stage, and GOP officials were concerned about being able to showcase the party’s deep bench without having candidates trip over one another. Priebus and the RNC made a concerted effort to limit the number of debates this year to nine, aiming to avoid the overload of forums last cycle that Republicans thought amounted to a circus.

The networks are largely in charge of setting the criteria for debates, which initially will take place in Wisconsin, California, and Texas. The RNC has said the criteria for the early debates will likely set the stage for those that follow.

The Aug. 6 debate will take place at the Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. Fox News anchors Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace will moderate. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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