CNN defends debate criteria

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CNN is defending its debate criteria after repeated assertions from the Carly Fiorina campaign that its methodology could bar her from the September debate’s main stage. 

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The network told The Hill in a statement that it remained confident in its decision to include polls from before the Fox News debate — before Fiorina’s surge in national polls.  

It added that it is not allowed to change the criteria after it's been announced, even though Fox News changed its criteria for its undercard debate in August. 

“Federal Election Commission guidelines make it clear that these criteria cannot be changed after they have been published,” a CNN official said. 

“We believe that our approach is a fair and effective way to deal with the highest number of candidates we have ever encountered."

Fox had initially instituted a 1 percent polling floor for any candidate looking to participate in the undercard debate. But it later removed that qualification to ensure all major candidates could appear.

Jan Baran, a former Republican Natinal Committee general counsel who now works as an elections lawyer, told The Hill that the situation is murky, but that it's likely CNN would be able to change its criteria. 
 
"CNN is correct in pointing out that the FEC regulations require 'pre-established objective criteria.' However, Ms. Fiorina may also be correct in arguing that objective criteria exist that would qualify her for the debate and that CNN should acknowledge that criteria prior to the debate itself," he said in an email. 
 
"There is a strong legal argument that CNN can modify criteria as long as they remain objective and are established some time prior to inviting candidates to participate."

CNN published its debate criteria in May, saying it would average major polls from July 16 through Sept. 10 in order to come up with the top 10 candidates that will make it into the main debate. 

That’s drawn the ire of the FIorina campaign. She regularly polled 2 percent or under in polls before the Fox debate. Although she missed the cut for the main debate, she shined in the earlier contest and has since polled at 5 percent in the two national polls after the debate. 

Sarah Isgur Flores, Fiorina’s deputy campaign manager, slammed the rules in a Medium post Wednesday where she called on the RNC to step in. 

“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,” Isgur Flores wrote. 

“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.” 

In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, the RNC said, “The RNC had great success creating a more orderly debate process but ultimately the criteria is legally left to the networks to determine. CNN’s debate parameters were released in May in order ensure there was notice and awareness of the criteria well in advance of the debate.”

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