CNN has decided to change its criteria for the Republican debate on Sept. 16 after facing criticism that its reliance on older polls could keep Carly Fiorina off the stage.
The network announced Tuesday that it will include any GOP candidate in the prime-time debate who polls in the top 10 of the field in an average of recognized polls between Aug. 6 and Sept. 10. That’s expected to help Fiorina the most — her poll numbers have shot up since the Aug. 6 Fox News debate.
CNN initially announced that it would solely rely on an average of polls from July 16 through Sept. 10. Those polls still remain the base cutoff for the debate, so it appears that any late-surging candidate such as Fiorina would not knock out someone who would qualify under CNN’s old rules.
The likely presence of Fiorina in the main debate will come as a relief to Republican Party leaders, who had been anxious to avoid having their only female candidate relegated to the second-tier stage.
The network's announcement drew praise from Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
“I applaud CNN for recognizing the historic nature of this debate and fully support the network’s decision to amend their criteria," he said.
The decision comes after much criticism by Fiorina and her team that the weighting of old polls could drown out her more recent gains.
She polled between 0 and 2 percent in all polls before the debate, but has steadily polled at 5 percent afterwards, well within the top 10 of the field.
CNN-approved pollsters had only released three polls since that Fox debate, so the vast majority of the polling the network planned to weigh would be from before August and would likely keep Fiorina out of the main debate.
"We learned this week that there will likely be only two more polls by the deadline of September 10th. In a world where we expected there to be at least 15 national polls, based on historic precedent, it appears there will be only five,” CNN said in a statement.
“As a result, we now believe we should adjust the criteria to ensure the next debate best reflects the most current state of the national race."
Sarah Isgur Flores, Fiorina's deputy campaign manager, tweeted a statement framing the decision as a victory against the establishment.
"We're so grateful to the thousands of grassroots supporters and conservative activists around the country who weren't afraid to take on the political establishment and challenge the status quo to make this happen," she tweeted.
"We look forward to watching Carly Fiorina debate the other front runners at the Reagan Library."
The new criteria opens up the possibility that even more candidates can break into the top 10. Since there have not been many qualifying polls released since Aug. 6, any major polling gains down the stretch could have an outsized effect on the pecking order. However, the remainder of the candidates are far enough outside of the top 10 that they would need to make an incredible jump in order to be eligible.
The network had previously balked at changing its criteria and said that it believed election law prohibited it from doing so. But election law experts questioned that reading and Fiorina’s team had been mounting a campaign over the past two weeks to force a change.
— This story was last updated at 6:27 p.m.