By Ben Kamisar
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina is pushing to get on Saturday’s GOP debate main stage, as the lack of an undercard debate threatens to knock her off the national broadcast altogether.
Fiorina sent the Republican National Committee (RNC) a letter Wednesday asking them to ensure she gets invited and criticizing the debate process as “broken” for ceding too much power to news networks.
“There are only 8 candidates left. It’s time for the RNC to demand that media executives step aside and let voters hear from all of us."
Saturday night’s ABC News debate is the first to not include an undercard contest. Its criteria includes the top three finishers in the Iowa caucuses, as well as any candidate polling within the top six in averages of recent New Hampshire or national polls. That guarantees appearances for Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, all of whom would have safely qualified through other measures.
Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie and John Kasich are also likely to meet the criteria, as the network’s deadline closes tomorrow and all appear safe according to RealClearPolitics’ average of recent polling.
That leaves Fiorina as the odd candidate out, after Rand Paul dropped out Wednesday morning and reports that Rick Santorum will do the same Wednesday night. Jim Gilmore would also not qualify for ABC's debate, but he's only appeared in a handful of debates during the election cycle.
Fiorina’s letter notes that all of the party’s declared candidates were invited to the debates after the Iowa caucuses in 2012. And she adds that she defeated Christie and Kasich in Iowa, while leaving the caucuses with the same number of delegates — one — as Bush.
She also notes that she’s raised more money and her campaign has more money in the bank than Christie and Kasich.
ABC News and the RNC did not immediately return requests to comment on the letter. During the repeated dust-ups over debate criteria, the RNC has noted that criteria must be left up to networks by law. However, the party does have the final say over sanctioning the debate and acted in the past to withdraw from an NBC debate in response to what it viewed to be biased questioning by CNBC moderators.
If the network relents, it would be the second time a network eased its announced criteria to allow Fiorina onto the stage.
In September, CNN amended its criteria to include Fiorina, who caught fire after a lauded performance during the first undercard debate in August. CNN’s criteria equally weighed polls from before that debate and after, leading Fiorina to argue that the criteria didn’t adequately reflect her rise.