O'Malley could be axed from Dem debate
© Greg Nash

Martin O'Malley could miss the cut for January's NBC News-YouTube Democratic debate as a higher polling threshold could cut the field to just two. 

The new criteria for the Jan. 17 debate stipulate that candidates must poll at an average of at least 5 percent in national polls or in the polls in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. The network will consider the five most recent qualifying surveys released before Jan. 14 in those averages. 
 
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That puts O'Malley on the bubble. If polling halted on Friday, he would just make the cut with an average of exactly 5 percent in the five most recent qualifying polls in Iowa. If he averages at that clip or above in polls released in the next six days, he'll make the cut. But if he dips below, he'll be sidelined for the last debate before the Iowa caucuses. 
 
If he falls short in Iowa, he'll have to boost his fortunes somewhere else. Right now, he's averaging 3.2 percent in national polling, 2.4 percent in New Hampshire and 1.8 percent in South Carolina, when the most recent qualifying polls are considered. 
 
Falling off the debate stage would be a significant blow for O'Malley, who has failed to gain traction so far as Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight MORE (I-Vt.) has overshadowed him as the progressive alternative to front-runner and former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain MORE
 
The Jan. 17 debate could draw low ratings, in part because it is on the Sunday night before the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. The party's last weekend debate in December scored 6.7 million viewers according to ratings aggregator TV by the Numbers, a slight drop from the party's November debate, also on a weekend.
 
"This election is not up to NBC executives or pollsters, its up to you--the people of Iowa. and we have 24 days to go," O'Malley said on the trail in Iowa Friday.
 
“When caucus night comes around, you always have a way of upsetting the apple garden, and with three of us in the race, I'm the only one that can upset the apple garden."
 
Democratic National Committee Communications Director Luis Miranda told The Hill in a statement that he expects "all three of our major candidates on stage next Sunday in South Carolina."
 
An NBC official told The Hill that the network would likely round up from 4.5 percent. That would keep O'Malley in better shape. If only one more poll is released before the deadline, O'Malley would need to score at 3 percent or above to stay on the stage. But if two polls are released, he'd need to average 6 percent.  That's because he scored highest in the two earliest polls in NBC's qualifying polls.
 
The former Maryland governor has gained support from the Clinton campaign, as spokesman Brian Fallon tweeted that they "believe all three candidates should participate in the South Carolina debate, and oppose any criteria that might leave someone excluded.
 
Sanders concurred. "What's fair is fair," he tweeted. "All three of the Democratic candidates for president should be on the debate stage. Period."
 
 
This story was last updated at 6:52 p.m.