- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich made the cut, but former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businesswoman Carly Fiorina will be left out of the first prime-time Republican presidential debate this week, Fox News said Tuesday in an announcement that is likely to handicap a number of candidates.

Earning time on stage for the 9 p.m. Thursday debate was seen as critical for most of the crowded field struggling to gain traction. Those who didn’t make the cut will be asked to participate in what has become known as the “kiddie’s table” debate, airing on Fox News four hours before the big event.

“Not being in the debate is like getting cut from the varsity team,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a top adviser to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “Nobody cares that you made the junior varsity. What candidates in the low single digits need more than anything else is a prime-time stage. But they are in a Catch-22 — not well known enough to join in the nationally televised debate that can help raise their name recognition.”

The 10 top-tier candidates, as determined by an average of polls, are businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul, Mr. Christie and Mr. Kasich — who barely earned a spot in the debate in Cleveland, which is in his home state.

Relegated to the second division are Mr. Perry, Ms. Fiorina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George E. Pataki and former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III.

That’s particularly devastating for the likes of Mr. Perry, who is eager to try to erase the memory of his debate struggles from four years ago, which helped speed his collapse and usher him out of the contest early on.

Fox News changed the contours of the Republican race this year by announcing that it was capping the first debate sanctioned by the Republican National Committee to the top 10 candidates based on national polls. It was a way of handling an unwieldy field of 17 major announced candidates.

But the decision angered some campaigns, which were hoping for the kinds of debate bounces that helped a number of contenders in the 2012 Republican presidential primary. The national attention provided a way for poorly funded candidates to counter the deep pockets of the front-runners.

Some analysts said that being left out of the debate won’t necessarily doom any candidacies.

“It’s embarrassing not to be included in the prime-time debate, especially for someone like Perry, who for a brief moment roughly four years ago looked like the odds-on favorite to win the nomination,” said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “That said, it’s not necessarily fatal. There’s a long way from now until Iowa, and there are many more debates to come, which might feature different lineups than the one we’ll have on Thursday night.”

The top five candidates were relatively confident of their position, but 10 others were within the margin of error in polls over the past few weeks and could have earned one of the remaining spots, pollsters said, which lent some drama to Fox’s announcement of the names Tuesday.

David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said the candidates in the prime-time debate do have an advantage over the rest of the field, though perhaps less so than the media hype suggests.

“For one thing, most debates don’t really mean much,” he said. “There are some that have a memorable line. … But barring that, most them just don’t move the needle much. It’s August, and a lot of people are on vacation or tending the grill. Those who aren’t probably wish they were.”

During the Voters First forum in New Hampshire on Monday, 14 of the 17 candidates fielded questions about, among other things, immigration, Planned Parenthood and foreign policy.

Mr. Trump skipped the event, saying it was not in his interest to attend.

It will be a different story Thursday when Mr. Trump stands in the center of the political universe. The candidates will be placed on the stage according to their position in the average of polls, which means Mr. Bush will be at Mr. Trump’s left hand, and Mr. Walker will be directly on Mr. Trump’s right.

The rise of Mr. Trump has been the dominant story of the campaign season and has caused heartburn among some Republicans, who fear his brash style and controversial rhetoric will hurt the party’s chances of capturing the White House.

Lagging in the polls, Mr. Perry emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Mr. Trump, calling him a cancer on conservatism. The attacks, though, were not enough to improve Mr. Perry’s standing in the polls.

Mr. Perry has been open about how he was ill-prepared to run in 2012 and better prepared this go-round. That provided a lighthearted moment in Monday’s forum when Mr. Perry was asked once again what federal agencies he would cut — the question that produced his memorable “oops” moment when he forgot the answer during a debate four years ago.

“I’ve heard this question before,” Mr. Perry quipped Monday, sparking laughter from the audience.

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