- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - A trio of newspapers in the early presidential nominating states is pushing back against the plan by Fox News to allow only 10 Republican candidates on stage in its Aug. 6 debate, the first of the 2016 campaign.

The New Hampshire Union Leader plans to host a candidate forum Aug. 3 at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, in partnership with The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, and The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The event will be live on C-SPAN as well as TV stations in Iowa and South Carolina and a New Hampshire radio station.

All 15 candidates now in the Republican pack have been invited to participate and about half have committed so far.

The Union Leader initially threatened to host a forum on the same day as the Fox debate after more than 50 prominent New Hampshire Republicans wrote to Fox protesting the network’s debate format.

Fox plans to limit its debate to 10 candidates based on their national polling averages. Most contenders at risk of not making the debate stage have committed to the newspaper event, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has yet to declare his candidacy. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former technology executive Carly Fiorina, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also are coming, according to the Union Leader. No details were released about the format.

The publishers of the three newspapers said it’s important for early-state voters to have a look at each candidate on a level playing field.

“There are a lot more than 10 viable candidates,” they said in a statement. “The early primary process gives all candidates a chance to be heard. If networks and national polls are to decide this now, the early state process is in jeopardy, and only big money and big names will compete.”

The Republican National Committee has authorized nine debates, from August through March. It is up to the organizations holding the debates to decide the entry criteria and format. Party rules say any candidate who participates in an unapproved debate will not be eligible for the approved ones. Allison Moore, speaking for the committee, said participation in the New Hampshire newspaper forum will not exclude candidates from the authorized debates.

The campaigns of other candidates - among them former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul - did not immediately say whether those candidates would join the New Hampshire forum.

The first presidential caucuses are in Iowa. The first primaries are in New Hampshire and South Carolina respectively.

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