C-SPAN to preempt first GOP debate

C-SPAN is partnering with a handful of regional newspapers in early-voting states for a nationally televised forum with the Republican presidential candidates just days before Fox News Channel’s first scheduled debate.

The network has invited all 17 of the GOP presidential hopefuls to the Aug. 3 Voters First Forum in New Hampshire.

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Publishers at the New Hampshire Union Leader, The Post and Courier of South Carolina, and Iowa's The Gazette say the forum was  prompted in part by Fox's controversial decision to cap the number of candidates in its Aug. 6 debate at 10.

“Fox says only the ‘top’ 10 candidates, as judged solely by national polling, will be allowed on its stage,” the publishers said in a joint statement. “That may be understandable later, but the first votes are half a year away and there are a lot more than 10 viable candidates.”

“The early primary process gives all candidates a chance to be heard,” they continued. “If networks and national polls are to decide this now, the early state process is in jeopardy and only big money and big names will compete.”

The statement reflects the concerns of many Republicans, who say the national media and unreliable early polls shouldn’t play a role in determining the top tier of candidates in a year when the GOP has a deep and diverse field.

So far, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke gives 'a definitive no' to possibility of running in 2020 Vicente Fox endorses Beto O'Rourke in Texas Senate race Beto O'Rourke on impeachment: 'There is enough there to proceed' MORE (Texas), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump Trump changes tone on Saudi Arabia amid mounting pressure Trump rebukes Saudis, but also gives them more time MORE (S.C.), and former New York Gov. George Pataki have committed to the C-SPAN forum.

Of those, only Carson is currently a lock to participate in the Fox News debate. The rest of the candidates will be working to raise their poll numbers to qualify for a spot on the debate stage.

The C-SPAN forum will be hosted by WGIR radio’s Jack Heath, who hosts  “New Hampshire Today." The candidates will take turns answering questions in five-minute segments.

To accommodate for those who will be left off the stage, Fox News will hold a nationally televised forum earlier in the day for those who don’t qualify.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) has sanctioned nine debates and signed off on the formats, but the national party has struggled to deal with the huge number of candidates running for the presidential nomination.

The C-SPAN event is not a sanctioned RNC debate, but rather one of more than a dozen forums and cattle calls this cycle that have materialized as demand for access to the candidates has skyrocketed.

Updated on July 15 at 11:05 a.m.