Rand Paul again in danger of missing main debate cutoff
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Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending Pro-Trump super PAC raises .5 million in 6 weeks Trump has exposed Democratic hypocrisy on prison reform MORE is once again on the bubble for Thursday's GOP debate and needs a strong round of polling down the stretch to propel him back into the main event.

The criteria for Fox News’s debate main stage includes candidates polling within the top six in national polls or the top five in polls from early-voting Iowa or New Hampshire. Those polls must be both conducted and released by Tuesday at 5 p.m. Eastern. Paul will likely miss the threshold in New Hampshire and national polls; the Hawkeye State presents his best shot.

Based on current RealClearPolitics polling averages, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump and Kim fight PR war as summit talks collapse Trump appears to confirm deal on Chinese firm ZTE Judge rejects Manafort's attempt to throw out some charges MORE, Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending Pro-Trump super PAC raises .5 million in 6 weeks Trump has exposed Democratic hypocrisy on prison reform MORE, Ben Carson, Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump appears to confirm deal on Chinese firm ZTE Hillicon Valley: Experts worry North Korea will retaliate with hacks over summit | FBI works to disrupt Russian botnet | Trump officials look to quell anger over ZTE | Obama makes case for tighter regs on tech Putting pressure on Trump, House passes bill barring government from doing business with ZTE MORE, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich would currently qualify for the main stage. Paul, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum would compete in the undercard debate, with Paul the only candidate with a significant chance of moving up.

The network does not release qualifying polls ahead of time, so it’s unclear which polls already released will qualify. Paul currently sits in sixth in RealClearPolitics’s average of recent polling in Iowa, meaning he needs to close the 0.8 percentage point gap with Bush in order to make the stage.  

But Paul has a potential built-in advantage — momentum.

Bush’s numbers are boosted by strong performances in the fourth and fifth most recent polls. So any new polling released before the deadline could push those strong finishes out of qualification.

Bush averages 6.5 percent in those two polls, compared to Paul’s 3 percent, while the Kentucky senator averages 3.7 percent in the three more recent polls, well ahead of Bush’s 2.7 percent.

Even if Bush, Florida's former governor, falls out of the top 5 in Iowa polling, he will still make the main stage unless he significantly drops in national polls. So the stakes in Iowa polling are higher for Paul than Bush.

Paul missed out on the prime-time debate during Fox Business Networks’s debate earlier this month, falling short of the polling requirements. In protest, he sat out of the network’s undercard debate and instead held an online Twitter town hall.

He has launched a campaign attacking the media, blaming the media companies setting the debate criteria for keeping him on the sidelines, a trope he’s fundraised off repeatedly. But he pledged he’ll be back on the main stage for Fox News’ Thursday debate.

“We’ll be in the first tier if you count the polls,” he told Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo on Monday morning.

Paul went onto accuse media organizations of “playing God” by setting “arbitrary” criteria that doesn’t take into account polling margin of error.

“The media a is a bit confused about how polls work—they have a margin of error, so someone who is at 6.2 is no different than someone who is at 6,” he said.

“It’s arbitrary — you guys just decide out of the blue which polls you are going to use, you don’t announce which polls you are going to use, you don’t understand what margin of error is.”

The senator hasn’t ruled out participating in the undercard debate if he misses out on his second-consecutive main stage, telling Fox Business that he’ll make the decision after the lineup is released

Fox News and Fox Business are the only two debate hosts that do not share the qualifying polls ahead of time, which makes it harder for candidates and political-watchers to track which candidates are on target to make the main debate stage.