GOP pack fights for debate space

GOP pack fights for debate space
The clock is ticking for GOP candidates at the bottom of the polls for 2016, scratching and clawing to reach the stage for the first Republican debate Thursday.
 
Only 10 contenders will make the cut, leaving the rest struggling for visibility in a much smaller event earlier that afternoon.
 
 
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But strategists argue that while missing out leaves an uphill battle, it’s not a death knell for a candidate.
 
“The Republican field is growing almost day by day,” said Michael Traugott, who consulted for Gallup following the 2012 presidential election.
 
“The problem is there is a limited amount of space in print and on air,” he told The Hill on Friday.
 
“There’s a conflict here between the Republican Party in getting interest for its candidates and the production values associated with good television.”
 
Fox News is separating candidates for the two debates based on an average of national polling numbers as of Tuesday evening.
 
That means the most important thing a candidate can do at this point to try to make the debate stage is increase media coverage, Traugott said.
 
“At this stage of the campaign, these numbers reflect in a very important way name recognition,” he said of average national polling results.
 
“They need to get media coverage to boost their recognition,” Traugott added.
 
He cautioned, though, that climbing in the polls means walking a fine line between being notable and being notorious.
  
“There is also a risk of saying something outrageous that gets an adverse association from the media,” Traugott added. “That’s one of the traps of the primary process.”
 
Veteran pollster Kellyanne Conway on Friday said borderline candidates must try grabbing as much spotlight as possible, regardless of their chances.
 
“My advice is to make yourself ubiquitous,” Conway told The Hill. “It’s better than twiddling their thumbs and whining in the corner.”
 
“They should write op-eds, appear on news shows and give as many interviews as possible,” she said. “No one’s place is guaranteed.”
 
“You can make your own news and you can make your own luck,” added Conway, president of The Polling Company Inc.
 
And even those who miss out on the debate stage should not start writing their own obituaries, she argued.
 
“I don’t think it’s fatal,” she said. “Voters are incredibly undecided at this time.”
 
“Polls are a snapshot in time,” Conway added. “These are seasoned politicians playing long-ball here. There will be almost a debate a month.”
 
A RealClearPolitics average of six national surveys shows the first eight main debate slots likely filled.
 
New York business mogul Donald Trump leads the GOP field at 20.8 percent, while Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) comes in eighth place with 5.2 percent.
 
In between them are Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — all likely safe to make the stage.
 
Fox News’s final pair of spots in its main debate is less certain, with a trio of candidates battling.
 
Kasich trails Cruz with 3.5 percent support, putting him in ninth place per RealClearPolitics. Christie and Perry, however, are not far behind. Christie commands 3 percent support, while Perry has 2.2 percent.  
 
These results leave all three men within striking distance of the final two spots on the main stage.
 
Further behind them but still within wishing distance of the stage are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) with 1.5 percent each, and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina with 1.3 percent.
 
Polling analyst Charles Franklin on Friday said major upheaval in the polls was unlikely before next week’s events.
 
“The track record over the last several weeks has not shown a very dynamic race,” the director of the Marquette Law School Poll said.
 
“There has not been a lot of movement,” he added. “It’s now even harder for people to do things that will stand out this last week or two.”
 
The contenders fighting to make the stage are largely doing the right things, Franklin argued. 
 
“Kasich did get a bump entering the race,” he said of the Ohio governor’s 2016 launch on July 21. “That is helping him a lot right now.”
 
“Perry has dealt with this by being aggressive in his criticisms of Trump,” Franklin said. “It may not be calculated but it certainly puts him in the conversation.”
 
Conway called Fox News’s qualifications a necessary evil to handle the abnormally huge field of candidates.
 
“Fox and the RNC have really had very little choice,” she said of the debate planning process.
 
“On TV it is annoying, if not impractical, for the viewer to see the kaleidoscope picture at all times,” she said.
 
“This year, the national polls matter very much. It is the difference between the main stage and the kiddies’ table.”