- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

As a pioneering Silicon Valley executive, Carly Fiorina was never one to shy away from a boardroom brawl in the male-dominated tech world. Turns out on the campaign trail, she has proven she also can use her own bully pulpit to force her own party into change.

Mrs. Fiorina, the lone woman in the GOP presidential field, waged a public campaign skewering CNN and the Republican National Committee for selection rules she argued might keep her off the next presidential debate’s main stage, even as she was rising in the polls.

On Tuesday, the pressure tactic paid off for her, even if it ruffled some inside the GOP.

CNN announced it was revising the criteria it plans to use for Republican candidates to participate in the second party-sanctioned debate this month at the Reagan Library in California, acknowledging the change could open the door for Mrs. Fiorina to participate.

While privately RNC officials acknowledged frustration that Mrs. Fiorina went so public with her complaint, their boss Reince Priebus praised the outcome of 10 days of private negotiations with her, other campaigns and CNN.

“I applaud CNN for recognizing the historic nature of this debate and fully support the network’s decision to amend their criteria,” the RNC chairman declared.

The cable news network said it would allow into the Sept. 16 debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library all candidates who are polling in the top 10 in an average of approved polls in either of two time periods — both the original July 16-Sept. 10 window, and a shorter Aug. 6-Sept. 10 period that covers the time since the first debate in Cleveland.

If that means 11 or 12 candidates qualify for the prime-time debate, so be it, the network ruled.

The decision is being viewed as a win for Mrs. Fiorina, who has carried momentum out of her performance in the “kiddie’s table” debate on Aug. 6, and has been lobbying CNN and the RNC to let her on stage with the other top-tier candidates.

The changes occur as outsiders like billionaire Donald Trump, Mrs. Fiorina and neurosurgeon Ben Carson have been surging in recent polls over traditional politicians like governors and senators.

CNN originally outlined its limit of 10 candidates and then polling criteria, including the July-September time period, in May. The network, though, said it switched gears because it thought there would be much more polling done in the wake of the opening debate.

Instead, there have been three national polls since then, and CNN said that there are likely only to be two more polls before their Sept. 10 cutoff.

“In a world where we expected there to be at least 15 national polls, based on historic precedent, it appears there will be only five,” CNN said in a statement.

“As a result, we now believe we should adjust the criteria to ensure the next debate best reflects the most current state of the national race,” the network said. “In the event that any candidate is polling in the top 10 in an average of approved national polls released between August 7th and September 10th, we will add those candidates to our top tier debate, even if those candidates did not poll in the top 10 in an average of approved national polls between July 16th and September 10th.”

If the eligibility window closed Tuesday under the old rules, CNN said its analysis of polls conducted from July 16 shows that Mr. Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mr. Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, John Kasich and Chris Christie would qualify for the top-tier debate.

With the change, Mrs. Fiorina would become an 11th candidate.

Mrs. Fiorina celebrated the news during an interview with conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday evening.

“I look forward to having a substantive conversation about the issues that face our nation with the other front-runners,” she said. “Which we would have more of, not less of.

If Mrs. Fiorina makes the main stage, she’ll be able to go head-to-head with the other business executive running as a Washington outsider: Mr. Trump.

“Certainly Trump is the front-runner. He is someone that I look forward to discussing and debating with,” she said.

RNC officials expect the stage to expand to 11 or 12 candidates under the rule change. Under the new formula, Mr. Paul, Mr. Kasich or Mr. Christie could be bumped to the earlier debate.

Sean Spicer, the RNC senior adviser helping to coordinate the debate, said the CNN change in policy was the outcome of 10 days of behind-the-scenes negotiations in which Mr. Priebus stayed neutral while urging fairness.

“Reince was never out to position winners or losers,” Mr. Spicer told The Washington Times. “Reince told CNN, ‘I want to a fair representation of the candidates, but I’m not trying to get anyone in or out of the debate.’”

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide