Here Come the Debates

Candidates jockey for spots amid new debate rules

The showdown is nearly here. Ten of the top presidential contenders will duke it out Thursday in the first televised debate in the fight for the GOP nomination.

From the number of candidates allowed onstage, to the number of vehicles allowed into the arena, Fox News has laid out meticulous rules for this kickoff debate of the 2016 Republican presidential primary season. The rules have been backed by the Republican National Committee.

Reuters described the situation this way: “With the Republican field the largest in history, fitting them on stage present[ed] an unprecedented challenge. To have all 17 Republican candidates in the November 2016 race share the prime-time stage was deemed too many to let all get sufficient time to speak, potentially leading to a bickering family collage of finger-pointing and fulminating.”

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll out this morning shows real estate magnate Donald Trump in the lead at 19 percent, followed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 15 percent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 14 percent. Interestingly, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry are all tied at 3 percent, and analysts say the momentum right now by Christie and Kasich could push Perry down.

The two-part debate will start live at 5 p.m. Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. A “matinee” forum will occur from 5-6 p.m. for lower-tier candidates, with a prime-time debate for the leading contenders following that, from 8:50 to 11 p.m. Analysis programming precedes and succeeds the debates.

The question most Americans are asking, of course, is this: How will Donald Trump do?

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According to the latest average of major polls on the political polling website Real Clear Politics, the candidates that appear best poised to meet the threshold for the prime-time debate are:

Rounding out the field — and therefore relegated to the 5 p.m. debate — would be former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and former N.Y. Gov. George Pataki. If Perry manages to pull off a top spot he would likely bump down either Christie or Kasich. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Jim Gilmore, former governor of Virginia, are also running for the nomination.

Gilmore announced his candidacy last week, and his access to the debate would be based on his poll standings, as with the other candidates, a Fox spokesperson said. Gilmore’s announcement may have come too late for some polls to include him.

Questions to the Candidates 
Moderating the prime-time debate will be Fox News personalities Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace. It will feature questions to the candidates submitted via Facebook and screened by network executives, according to an internal Fox memo obtained and reported by the New York Times.

But first, Fox planned — and then relaxed — rules over which candidates can appear in the debate.

Only one vehicle per candidate will be allowed inside the arena, in keeping with an effort to restrict the size of their staffs.

Initially the network had planned to restrict the prime-time debate to only the top 10 of the 17 announced GOP candidates, based on their polling positions “as recognized by Fox News leading up to 5 p.m. (Eastern) on August 4,” according to a network news release. The network said only “major, nationally recognized organizations that use standard methodological techniques” would be used.

The two-day lag time between the polling cutoff and debate day is intended to allow Fox time to formally issue invitations to the candidates.

The earlier 5 p.m. debate represents an olive branch of sorts to lesser-known candidates such as Graham, who was particularly vocal about Fox’s initial rules.

“I think this is a dumb way to weed out the field,” he declared in an interview with Fox News a few weeks ago.

Some of Fox’s requirements are basic. Candidates must meet all U.S. constitutional requirements; must have announced their candidacies; must have filed all necessary federal paperwork; and must have paid all applicable state and federal filing fees.

Then there are more arcane requirements. Only one vehicle per candidate is permitted inside the arena, in keeping with an effort to restrict the size of their staffs. Each candidate will be allowed 15 credentials for the debates’ “spin room,” and only 10 staffers are allowed backstage access, per Fox.

Specifics on how much time each candidate will have to speak, the time allowed for rebuttals, and any rules regarding questions are still being finalized, but would be based on past presidential primary debates, a Fox spokesperson said.

Follow @LifeZette on Twitter for live debate coverage and commentary from PoliZette staff Thursday, August 6, at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. EST. 

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