Fox Business drops Paul, Fiorina from main debate stage

Republican presidential candidates Rand PaulRand PaulOvernight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo Paul ties release of 9/11 docs to defense bill Will Ted Cruz let it go? MORE and Carly Fiorina have been demoted to Thursday’s undercard debate, while Ohio Gov. John Kasich maintains a spot on this week’s main stage. 

That will shrink the prime-time debate from nine to seven candidates about two weeks ahead of when the first votes are cast. On the main debate stage will be: GOP front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump aide: 'Hillary is the one who’s got a gender gap' Trump aide: Picking a woman or minority as VP would be 'pandering' Trump adviser: He will 'soften' on Muslim ban MORE, Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzEleven states sue Obama over transgender bathroom directive Poll: Clinton leads Trump in Wisconsin by double digits GOP senators propose sending ISIS fighters to Gitmo MORE (R-Texas), Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate GOP ties Iran sanctions fight to defense bill Analysis: Pa. senator missed most Budget Committee hearings Susana Martinez fires back at Trump MORE (R-Fla.), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. 

The lineup for Thursday’s GOP debate in North Charleston, S.C., was unveiled on “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” The network didn’t inform candidates ahead of time about which polls would be used. 

Paul told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer ahead of the announcement that he got a heads up from the network that he’d be demoted and said he wouldn’t participate in the undercard debate.

“I won’t participate in anything that’s not first tier,” he said. “I think an artificial designation being in the second tier.”

“It’s really a mistake,” the Kentucky senator said, adding that he’ll continue to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. “The thing is that the Republican Party needs a voice like mine.” 

Fiorina, whose first debate in the undercard event boosted her polls enough to propel her into subsequent primetime debates, failed for the first time to place high enough to remain on the main stage. 

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Fox Business Network had given candidates a chance to place in the top six of polls nationally or the top five either in Iowa or New Hampshire. 

Without Paul, the undercard debate would consist of Fiorina, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylavnia Sen. Rick Santorum for the 6 p.m. debate. 

Kasich’s position in the debate had been threatened over the weekend, but a New Hampshire poll released on Monday that showed him tied for second place saved Kasich from the undercard debate. 

The network released debate guidelines last month stipulating that candidates must make the top six in an average of five recent national polls, or top five in an average of recent polls from Iowa or New Hampshire. 

Relegation to the undercard debate is seen as a major blow to a campaign, and they garner significantly less viewership than the prime-time ones. While more than 13 million people watched the main Fox Business Network debate in November, only 4.7 million viewers tuned in for the undercard.

There had been a lull in the number of polls released in recent weeks, but a flurry of polls have come out in since the weekend, including two on Monday: a Quinnipiac University poll in Iowa and a Monmouth University poll in New Hampshire

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