Fiorina, Christie battle for spot on main debate stage


Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina are battling to be on the main stage of the next GOP presidential primary debate. 

While Christie’s supporters are spending $1 million in advertising to solidify his spot, Fiorina is unlikely to be able to buy the ad time needed to help her climb enough in national polls to make it onto the main debate stage in two weeks, a GOP strategist said. 

With 10 days to go until CNN decides the top 10 for the next Republican debate, Fiorina’s campaign sent out a fundraising email to supporters on Monday asking for donations to help the candidate make it to the prime-time stage.

“CNN has made it crystal clear that they'll do anything, even use funny math and nonsensical arguments, to keep a critical outsider voice — our voice — off that stage,” the fundraising email says, pointing readers to a large red "donate now" button. 

Fiorina’s low poll numbers leading up to the first GOP debate on Aug. 6 kept her off the main stage that time, but her numbers have surged since her performance in the early evening debate of second-tier candidates. CNN, however, is deciding its top 10 using polls that date back to July 16, when she registered 1 percent or 2 percent support. 

Even if the former businesswoman's campaign or super-PAC were willing to spend millions of dollars on advertising between now and Sept. 10, CNN’s poll cut-off date, it would be hard for her to garner enough national polling points to break into the top 10, said Stuart Stevens, chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. 

“If you’re looking at national numbers, its very hard to buy that,” he said. “People say ‘Well, buy Fox,’ but Fox is 2 million people, and that’s not nearly enough to move national polls," Stevens added.

It’s unclear how much money either the Fiorina campaign or the pro-Fiorina super-PAC has spent or plans to spend on paid advertising to help her get onto the primary debate stage.  

But with her profile soaring after the first GOP debate on Fox News Channel, Fiorina's record as CEO of Hewlett-Packard came under scrutiny from journalists and under attack from opponents, such as Donald Trump. The criticism was so intense that Carly for America, her supporting super-PAC, bought a full-page ad in The New York Times last Thursday to defend Fiorina's business record.  

Neither the super-PAC nor her campaign responded to questions on their advertising spending.   

To get to the main stage, Fiorina would have to knock out the current person occupying the 10th spot, New Jersey Gov. Christie, who just barely made it onto the main stage for the Fox News debate.

Fiorina received 5 percent support in each of the three national polls released since that debate. Christie, on the other hand, has been averaging between 3 percent and 4 percent in those polls.

If that trend continues, Fiorina is unlikely to make it onto the main stage for the CNN debate, according to an analysis of national polling by The Hill.

Christie's supporters, however, are not taking his spot as a given. His super-PAC, which has raised more than $11 million, is spending early to keep him on the debate stage. 

The pro-Christie super-PAC, America Leads, has made a national advertising buy of about $1 million — predominately on Fox and Fox Business — timed to air in the lead-up to the debate. Christie’s campaign followed a similar strategy, buying at least $250,000 of advertising time on the conservative-leaning network in the weeks preceding the debate.

The new Christie ads use footage of the governor talking at town halls mostly about his tough stance on national security. 

“We are devoting ourselves right now to paid media,” said Tucker Martin, an adviser to America Leads. 

“Obviously the debates are very important. ... You’d laugh me off this interview if I said some of [the advertising spending] weren’t aimed at national reputation and getting him on that stage.” 

Stevens, the former Romney strategist, says he thinks Fiorina will continue to surge and may even end up in the prime-time debate. While he admits his opinion is “unburdened by evidence” Stevens believes CNN will change its guidelines and let Fiorina into the main show.  

“She’s the anti-Hillary,” he said. “Every time people see Hillary Clinton, she goes down [in the polls] ... whereas every time they see [Fiorina], she goes up,” he said.

“[Today] she’s struggling for visibility. But ultimately that’s a good problem to have.” 

Ben Kamisar contributed.