Politics & Policy

Who’ll Earn a Seat at the Grownups’ Table for the Second Debate?

(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

Carly Fiorina is enjoying a post-debate surge, and that’s bad news for John Kasich, Chris Christie, and perhaps even Mike Huckabee.

A record 25 million viewers tuned in to Fox News to watch the top ten GOP presidential candidates debate in primetime last Thursday. The “second tier” debate — which included those contenders outside of the top ten in national polls — enjoyed a surprising 6.6 million viewers, but every candidate would obviously prefer the bigger audience guaranteed by a top-ten position in the polls when CNN hosts the next round of debates on September 16.

The perilous spot for Kasich and Christie — whom Fox News characterized as “hovering by that edge in recent polling” when it announced its debate lineup — is to be expected. But it’s a surprise to see Huckabee in danger of falling out of the top tier for the CNN debates. He ranked sixth in the average used to determine participation in last week’s main event. Yet he would fall all the way to eleventh place if upcoming polls show a result similar to Rasmussen’s latest survey.

That survey showed Fiorina jumping from 2 percent support on July 26-27 to 9 percent — good enough for fourth place — in a survey conducted August 8-9. Rasmussen showed just enough of a drop for Huckabee that he slipped out of the top ten, from 7 percent in late July down to 3 percent a few days ago.

RELATED: Carly Fiorina’s Victory Lap

Fiorina still needs more pollsters to affirm her rise to ensure she’ll get a spot in the top ten for the next debate, of course. Another post-debate national poll recorded a similarly big jump for the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, but it comes with caveats. The Reuters-Ipsos poll showed Fiorina jumping from 1 percent in a survey conducted from August 1-5 to 6 percent in one conducted from August 6-10, good enough for seventh place. But the sample size for those surveys is quite small, just 278 Republicans.

Every candidate would obviously prefer the bigger audience guaranteed by a top-ten position in the polls.

What’s more, CNN’s average won’t include results from Rasmussen or the Reuters-Ipsos polls. The network says it will only use the most prominent “live interviewer” national polls to determine who makes the main stage. Rasmussen is excluded because it’s what is sometimes referred to as a “robo-poll.” As the firm explains, its “survey questions are digitally recorded and fed to a calling program that determines question order, branching options, and other factors.” Ipsos conducts its surveys online, although they are not open to anyone who wants to participate, as, for example, the Drudge Report’s poll is.

CNN will be using “all qualifying polls released between July 16 and September 10,” so candidates have about one more month to improve their standing in the averages.

RELATED: Carly Fiorina Is Fast Becoming an Excellent Politician

Back in May, CNN laid out what seemed like complicated and unnecessary criteria for determining who would qualify for that tenth slot in the event of a tie. Now, with Fiorina and Kasich currently very close in the averages, those criteria may be needed after all.

CNN’s first tiebreaker is “the average of all qualifying polls released between August 26 and September 10.” In other words, which candidate performs best in the two weeks preceding the debate. After that, if two or more candidates still remain tied, the tenth spot would go to whichever one leads in an “average of all qualifying polling conducted in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada released between July 16 and September 10.”

#related#At first glance, the early-primary tiebreaker could be good news for Kasich, who has prioritized New Hampshire. He’s in third place at 12 percent in the latest Boston Herald/FPU poll and in second place with 15 percent in the most recent Gravis poll. But three polls conducted in Iowa since the debate have Fiorina gaining ground, in fourth or fifth place with 7 to 9 percent.

No polls of Republican presidential preferences have been conducted in South Carolina or Nevada since the debate.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent of National Review.

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