Rand Paul at risk of dropping off main debate stage
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Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMcConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return Rand Paul says Fauci owes parents and students an apology over pandemic measures Grassley returns to Capitol after having coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) is in serious danger of missing out on next week’s GOP debate main stage as his polling continues to sputter nationally and in early states. 

While CNN has given candidates three avenues to qualify for the main stage — meeting either a 3.5 percent average national threshold or a 4 percent average threshold in Iowa or New Hampshire — Paul has failed to muster enough support as of Friday morning, according to The Hill’s analysis of qualifying polls. 

It appears that Iowa is his only hope, as he is almost guaranteed to miss out on the national and New Hampshire thresholds. With an average of 3.5 percent in Iowa on Friday morning, he would need at least two polls averaging his best performance in Iowa, 5 percent, to hit the 4 percent threshold. 

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CNN will consider qualifying polling until 5 p.m. on Sunday, leaving Paul only this weekend to flip the script.  

Missing out on the primetime event would be a significant blow for a campaign that has been on a downward trend with fewer than two months to go before primary season. The Iowa caucuses will be held on Feb. 1, with New Hampshire's primary a week later.

The snub could worry donors, limiting his ability to fundraise. Paul raised just $2.5 million last quarter, lower than any other candidate with a main stage appearance except for former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark). 

Falling off the main event isn’t necessarily a death knell, however. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie looks to be a lock to jump back into the primetime debate after Fox Business News criteria knocked him down to the “happy-hour” debate. His fortunes turned around in part after a lauded performance in that undercard debate, positive buzz surrounding an emotional video on drug abuse and the endorsement of the powerful New Hampshire Union Leader.

He has completely reversed his fortunes in New Hampshire. Lost in the middle of the pack just one month ago, Christie’s stock is rising in New Hampshire, where he just hit double digits in a WBUR poll released on Friday. 

The same can’t be said for Huckabee, who fell down into the second-tier debate with Christie last month. He’ll reprise his role in the early debate and remains a far cry from any of the thresholds. 

Carly Fiorina, the only female candidate on the GOP side, will likely stay on the main stage as long as she doesn’t face a dramatic dip at the polls in New Hampshire, the only state where she has met the threshold.

CNN’s national cut-off is higher than all prior debates, but many candidates are saved by the inclusion of state data. CNN is the first network to include state polling. Of the 14 GOP candidates, only five — Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal watchdog accuses VOA parent company of wrongdoing under Trump appointee Lawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list Ivanka Trump gives deposition in lawsuit alleging misuse of inauguration funds MORE, Ben Carson, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration proceeds with rollback of bird protections despite objections | Trump banking proposal on fossil fuels sparks backlash from libertarians | EU 2019 greenhouse gas emissions down 24 percent Trump's NATO ambassador pledges 'seamless' transition to Biden administration MORE (Texas), Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP urges Trump not to tank defense bill over tech fight Pressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread MORE (Fla.) and former Gov. Jeb Bush (Fla.) are  polling above 4 percent nationally in CNN’s qualifying polls.  

Along with Christie and Fiorina, Gov. John Kasich (Ohio) will also appear on the main stage, buoyed by stronger numbers in the Granite State. 

If Paul falls off, he’ll join former Sen. Rick Santorum (Penn.), Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDespite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill GOP urges Trump not to tank defense bill over tech fight Republican frustration builds over Cabinet picks MORE (S.C.) and former New York Gov. George Pataki in the 6 p.m. undercard debate.