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.

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.

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.”

“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.”