Politics & Policy

Carly Rips CNN Debate Criteria, Calls On RNC to Intervene

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Candidate Fiorina says she shouldn’t have to sit at the kids’ table any longer.

Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign is weighing in for the first time on CNN’s criteria for including candidates in the second presidential debate — slamming the network for its reliance on old polls, blasting the “political establishment,” and calling on the Republican National Committee to intervene on the campaign’s behalf.

In a memo set to be released on Wednesday morning, an advance copy of which was obtained by National Review, Fiorina’s deputy campaign manager, Sarah Isgur Flores, hammers the network for its reliance on polling conducted prior to the first debate, in which she is widely perceived to have dominated the “undercard” event.

“It’s a simple question: Will we have a fair debate process or will the political establishment keep ignoring grassroots Republicans?” she asks.

CNN plans to use an average of polls conducted between July 16 and September 12 to cement its top-ten lineup for the main stage. But only three polls have been released since the Fox News debate on August 6 — a marked contrast to the flood of surveys leading up to the event. This means that Fiorina’s weak pre-debate polling, with numbers hovering around 1 percent, are likely to outweigh the surge that followed her standout performance on the undercard stage.

Flores notes that in the three national polls released since the debate, Fiorina has ranked between fourth and seventh place, and that her name ID and net favorability have risen by double digits. Those polls have put her ahead of candidates who made it on the main stage in the last debate, including John Kasich and Marco Rubio.

The Fiorina campaign is calling on the RNC to take action and ask CNN to weigh the group of all polls conducted in July the same as the group conducted in August and September, after the Fox News debate. “Because there were nine polls released in the three weeks before the last debate, one would expect 18 polls released in the six weeks between the two debates,” Flores writes. “If that does not happen, the polling average of those six weeks should be treated as the equivalent of 18 polls. Assuming the numbers remain consistent with current polling, Carly would easily place in the top 10 for the main debate.”

In order to do that, Fiorina would have to remain at 5 percent in a total of nine polls between now and the CNN debate, according to the website FiveThirtyEight. But with twelve of the 14 polling firms included in CNN’s average operating on undisclosed schedules, it’s unclear whether Fiorina will see the saturation of polls she needs before the cutoff.

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That Fiorina may not debate alongside other top-tier candidates whose numbers have barely changed since the Fox debate is an affront to voters, says Katie Hughes, communications director for CARLY for America.

“No one is campaigning nationally. Placing so much importance on national polling, especially this early in the process, starts to take away the vital role that the voters of these early states play,” Hughes says. “We have seen that the more people learn about Carly’s leadership experience, the more they want her in the White House.”

Read the full contents of the Fiorina campaign’s memo below:

Carly won the debate[s] on August 6th. In the three national polls that have been released since the debate, Carly is between 4th and 7th place. Her name ID and net favorability have risen by double digits. And she has continued to impress crowds during her most recent trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, Georgia, and Nevada.

The state polling since the first debate is even more stark — and relevant, since that’s actually how we pick presidential nominees in this country. Here’s how Carly ranks in every state poll since the first debate: New Hampshire: 3rd; South Carolina: 4th; Wisconsin: 5th; Florida: 5th; Ohio: 6th; Pennsylvania: 4th; Nevada: 2nd; North Carolina: 6th; Arizona: 3rd; Iowa: 5th; Michigan: 2nd; Missouri: 7th; New Hampshire: 5th; Iowa: 5th; Iowa: 5th.

Despite [her] being solidly in the top 10 by every measure, the political establishment is still rigging the game to keep Carly off the main debate stage next month.

The RNC has chosen CNN to host the next debate, and CNN has decided that they will average polls going back to July 16th. Carly would easily make this debate if there were a consistent number of polls from one week to the next, but that’s not the case. In the three weeks before the first debate, CNN will be counting nine polls. In the three weeks since the debate, they will only be counting two. By simply averaging these polls together, CNN will be weighting the three weeks of polling before the debate more than three times as heavily as the three weeks of polling after Carly won the first debate.

The RNC should ask CNN to treat the polling in July the same as the polling that comes after. Because there were nine polls released in the three weeks before the last debate, one would expect 18 polls released in the six weeks between the two debates. If that does not happen, the polling average of those six weeks should be treated as the equivalent of 18 polls. Assuming the numbers remain consistent with current polling, Carly would easily place in the top 10 for the main debate.

To be clear, if Carly isn’t on the main stage, it will not be because her rise in the polls can’t overcome lower polling from July, but because only two of CNN’s chosen polling companies have released polls at all since the first debate. If the RNC won’t tell CNN to treat post-debate polling consistently with pre-debate polling, they are putting their thumb on the scale and choosing to favor candidates with higher polling for three weeks in July over candidates with measurable momentum in August and September.

We’re proud of Carly’s debate performance. We’re excited that grassroots voters around the country want to hear more from her. It will be interesting to see if CNN has no qualms excluding someone who is polling in the top 5 in Iowa and New Hampshire, in second place in multiple states, and well within the top 10 nationally. And it will be disappointing if Reince Priebus and the Republican establishment stand by and let a TV network keep Carly off the main stage . . . again.

It’s a simple question: Will we have a fair debate process or will the political establishment keep ignoring grassroots Republicans?

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