CNN Changes Debate Criteria, Giving Carly Fiorina a Spot on the Main Stage

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GOP Presidential Candidates Participate In Pre-Debate Forum In Cleveland
Carly Fiorina at the presidential pre-debate forum on August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/2015 Getty Images

Carly Fiorina, the only standout from the Fox News “kids’ table” debate earlier this month, has been campaigning hard for a spot on the main stage in the next GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on September 16. On Tuesday CNN gave in, announcing that it’s adjusted the debate criteria to include Fiorina, without excluding candidates like Chris Christie and Rand Paul who may have fallen out of the top ten.

According to Politico, in addition to the top ten candidates in an average of all approved national polls between July 16 and September 10, any candidate who averages in the top ten in polls conducted between August 6 and September 10 will be included. CNN did not mention any candidates by name, and they attributed the change to the availability of fewer polls than expected. “We now believe we should adjust the criteria to ensure the next debate best reflects the most current state of the national race,” the network said.

The final debate lineup won’t be released until September 10, but it’s likely that there will be more than ten candidates on stage. According to Politico’s calculation, the new formula puts Fiorina in seventh place, and even if her numbers take a serious dip in the coming weeks she’ll probably still be in the top ten.

The addition of Fiorina means that the debate won’t be exclusively male, and Donald Trump is likely to face a more vigorous challenge. Fiorina took a jab at Trump in the first debate, though they weren’t on the same stage, saying, “I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race. Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t given money to the foundation or donated to his wife’s Senate campaign.” (And for what it’s worth, Chris Christie claimed on Monday’s Tonight show that viewers should be prepared for him to “go nuclear” in the next debate.)

Fiorina celebrated CNN’s decision on Twitter, and thanked rival Ben Carson, who said she should be in the main debate (he’s actually called for every candidate to be included).

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus praised the network too, saying, “I applaud CNN for recognizing the historic nature of this debate and fully support the network’s decision to amend their criteria.”

Like Fox News, CNN will hold a 6 p.m. debate for candidates who scored at least 1 percent in three recognized national polls, followed by the main event at 9 p.m. Presumably Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and George Pataki aren’t thrilled that there’s now one less reason to tune in for their debate.

CNN Changes Criteria, Puts Fiorina in Debate