Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina has picked up some big-name backers in her bid to get onto the GOP presidential debate stage this Saturday in Manchester, winning support on Thursday from 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“Hey @ABC: put @CarlyFiorina on the debate stage! She got more Iowa votes than John and Chris. Don’t exclude only woman,” Mr. Romney tweeted.
Mrs. Fiorina finished seventh in the Iowa caucuses Monday, ahead of both Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Earlier, Ms. Ayotte had said Mrs. Fiorina has campaigned hard in New Hampshire and a decision to exclude her from the debate while she outperforms another debate participant in state polling “undermines” the state’s role in the primary process.
Mr. Gingrich, one of Mr. Romney’s rivals in the 2012 presidential race, also tweeted that Mrs. Fiorina has earned a spot.
“@ABC should put @CarlyFiorina in the new hampshire debate,” Mr. Gingrich tweeted. “she came in ahead of kasich and christie. She has earned a spot.”
GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who has emerged as a leading critic of businessman and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, also chimed in on Twitter by saying Mrs. Fiorina is “one the best story-tellers” the GOP has.
“Only one poll has mattered so far — & she got delegates,” Mr. Sasse tweeted. “She shld be on the #GOPdebate stage.”
To qualify for Saturday’s debate, candidates must have placed in the top three in the Iowa caucuses or place in the top six in an average of recent national polls or in the top six in an average of recent polls on New Hampshire.
There will not be an “undercard” debate, as there has been in the past. Since ABC released the entry guidelines last month, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania have all announced they are quitting the race.
Based on recent polling, that means Mrs. Fiorina and former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III could end up being the only remaining candidates left off the stage on Saturday.
Mrs. Fiorina wrote to the Republican National Committee on Wednesday asking the RNC “to demand that media executives step aside and let voters hear from all of us.”
“I have come further from further behind than any other candidate running,” Mrs. Fiorina said on MSNBC Thursday.
She pointed out to the RNC that she finished ahead of Mr. Kasich and Mr. Christie, has the same number of delegates as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Mr. Kasich, and is ahead of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson in New Hampshire polling.
In a letter to ABC News Thursday, Mr. Gilmore said that while he didn’t agree with the “unseemly lobbying and pressure” being applied by Mrs. Fiorina, all of the remaining Republican candidates should be allowed to debate.
Mr. Gilmore, who finished last in Iowa with 12 votes, participated in the most recent undercard debate along with Mrs. Fiorina, Mr. Huckabee, and Mr. Santorum, but he did not achieve the required polling numbers to qualify for any other debate.
“I am not going to use her tactics to try to intimidate one of America’s great networks, but I do believe all of the candidates should be included in the Saturday event, especially if Ms. Fiorina is invited to participate,” Mr. Gilmore wrote.
The polls used in the calculations have to be released before 5 p.m. (ET) on Thursday.
Last year, CNN changed its entry criteria for the second Republican debate after lobbying from Mrs. Fiorina. That allowed her onto the prime-time stage for the Sept. 16 debate.