Why Carly Fiorina's Surge Probably Won’t Earn Her a Debate Podium
Despite a surge in the polls, it’s unlikely Fiorina will earn a debate podium.
By KATHERINE FAULDERS and RYAN STRUYK
September 1, 2015, 4:26 PM
• 7 min read
-- That’s right. Despite a surge in the polls following the first debate, it’s looking more and more unlikely that former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will earn a spot on the main stage at the next GOP debate, a scenario which makes the candidate and her campaign clearly unhappy.
The second Republican debate, hosted by CNN two weeks from now, will feature the top 10 candidates in an average of polls stretching all the way back to mid-July – which means most of the polls included in the average place Fiorina in low single digits before her winsome performance in the Fox News undercard debate in early August.
So with nine days to go until the polling cutoff – which will ultimately decide Fiorina’s fate – the campaign is sending out fundraising emails surrounding the controversy. “The political class takes care of their own,” the fundraising email from campaign manager Sarah Isgur Flores read. “CNN has made it crystal clear that they’ll do anything, even use funny math and nonsensical arguments, to keep a critical outsider voice – our voice – off that stage.”
Fiorina will likely be on stage for another undercard debate with bottom-tier candidates before the primetime debate.
But CNN is defending their debate rules, which were originally set in May, long before the race had begun to take shape. “We believe that our approach is a fair and effective way to deal with the highest number of candidates we have ever encountered,” said a CNN spokesperson. “Federal Election Commission guidelines make it clear that these criteria cannot be changed after they have been published.”
Her troubles come despite a new poll from Monmouth University out Monday showing Fiorina placing third in the essential, first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, behind only Donald Trump and Ben Carson. She has also garnered a solid 5 percent of the vote in each of three national polls since the first debate.
But an ABC News analysis using the second debate criteria currently shows the businesswoman in 12th place with a 1.9 percent average. She’ll need to climb past Rick Perry to reach Chris Christie, who currently holds the tenth and final podium with an average of 3.3 percent – almost a full point and half ahead of Fiorina in the average of 12 national polls that fit CNN’s criteria. In an average of polls following the first debate, however, Fiorina averages 5 percent – good enough for seventh place.
And now the Carson campaign is now racing to her defense. “We think she should be included. We think everyone should be included,” Communications Director Doug Watts told ABC News. “Particularly given the mathematics, we think Carly has owned a spot at the podium.”
Carson and his campaign have been very vocal in expressing their concerns with the debate rules since May writing to RNC Chairman Reince Preibus that limiting participation does the Republican Party a disservice. “Limiting participation of qualified candidates on this reasoning, I believe, does our party a tremendous disservice,” Carson wrote to Preibus. “I am particularly concerned with widespread speculation that my respected and well qualified colleague, Ms. Carly Fiorina, may fall victim to those who want to limit debate participation to the more ‘popular’ candidates, and I am serving notice herein, that I could not support such a decision.”
Fiorina herself has ripped into CNN and the Republican National Committee regarding the debate rules. "The rules are ridiculous. The rules are ridiculous. It's like saying to a football team that performs well and goes to the playoffs: 'You can't play in the playoff game because of a pre-season game.’ It's a stupid rule,” Fiorina told ABC News in Iowa last week.
“So they could change them if they wanted to. The RNC could ask them to change the rules, they could do more polls, they could count state polls. When you have a candidate whose in the top five in every state poll including in Iowa, New Hampshire, and every early state, and whose comfortably in the top ten in national polls, and you say 'oh so sorry, we can't change our rules,' that's ridiculous. That's putting your thumb on the scales.”
But Brad Smith, a former FEC chair turned law professor at Capital University, says that CNN would likely not face legal penalties for changing the rules. “They have no obligation to change their criteria, but I think they can probably do so without much fear,” he told ABC News, adding that FEC action could prompt questions about press freedom.
“I think it was presumed that polling would be more or less equal over a period of time,” said Smith, who stressed that the decision is up to CNN and the legal risk they are willing to take. “I would be very surprised if they would have any problem with the regulators.”