Iowa, N.H. polls will help decide who’s in next GOP debate

Rand Paul speaks during Republican presidential debate at Milwaukee Theatre Nov. 10, but will he make the main event next time?
Rand Paul speaks during Republican presidential debate at Milwaukee Theatre Nov. 10, but will he make the main event next time? AP

Nine Republicans would qualify for the main stage at the next presidential debate at the moment, but it could be a close call for Sen. Rand Paul.

CNN, one of the sponsors of the December 15 debate in Las Vegas, announced Friday that Republicans have one of three ways to qualify for the main event.

For the first time, polls from New Hampshire and Iowa will be used; underdog candidates who have targeted those states have been pushing for the change. Previous debates have used national polls.

To qualify for the main stage next month, candidates have to meet one of three criteria in polls conducted between October 29 and December 13 and recognized by CNN: An average of at least 3.5 percent nationally; at least 4 percent in Iowa, which hosts the first caucuses February 1, or at least 4 percent in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary February 9.

Currently, those qualifying would be real estate mogul Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, former business executive Carly Fiorina, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Paul, R-Ky.

“Paul is on the bubble for the debate,” said CNN’s Mark Preston. “He clears the national hurdle of 3.5 percent, but doesn't average 4percent in either of the first two states to vote in the 2016 nominating process.”

Christie, though, would be back on the main stage. His poll numbers sent him to the undercards in the November 10 debate.

There will still be an earlier debate, for candidates who have reached at least 1 percent four separate national, Iowa or New Hampshire polls that are recognized by CNN.

Polls that will be considered are live interviewer national and state surveys by: ABC News, Bloomberg News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, Gallup, Marist University, McClatchy News Service, Monmouth News Service, NBC News, The New York Times, Pew Research Center, Quinnipiac University, Time, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Des Moines Register, the University of New Hampshire, WBUR and WMUR.

There was controversy about qualifiers for the November debate. Fox Business Network required main stage qualifiers to average at least 2.5 percent in four polls taken just before the debate. Christie and Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, didn’t reach that level and were on the undercard with two other candidates.

The network used polls from Fox, Quinnipiac University, NBC/Wall Street Journal and IBD. Had it used a McClatchy-Marist poll released after the lineup was announced, it was likely Christie and Huckabee would have made the big debate.

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid