The next Republican debate promises to feature a reduced cast of characters. Fox Business will sponsor the debate, and the network has set up a more stringent set of criteria for making the main stage. Previous debates have required headliners to achieve a certain average in national and/or state nomination polls to qualify. Fox Business has shifted the metric they’ll use away from a percentage threshold.
Instead, GOP hopefuls who rank in the top six in a predefined set of five national nomination polls will qualify. Alternatively, if a candidate who is not in the top six nationally makes the top five in similar Iowa or New Hampshire polls, he or she will also qualify. Currently, however, nobody seems poised to make the main stage via that secondary path.
According to Election Projection’s Republican nomination poll average, the six candidates to qualify at the moment would be Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. Nothing I see suggests that group will change between now and January 14.
The rest of the field can take the stage in the preliminary debate if they earn at least 1% in just one of the five national polls used to determine the main debate participants. Unless things change, this field will include four candidates who have been on the main stage before – John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee – along with habitual early-rounders George Pataki and Rick Santorum. Jim Gilmore has yet to qualify for any debate.