ABC Cuts Also-Rans from Debates
ABC has drawn a line and three did not make the cut.
ABC News is eliminating Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter and Democrats Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel from its prime-time presidential debates Saturday night because they did not meet benchmarks for their support.
The Democratic debate three days before the New Hampshire primary will include Iowa caucus winner Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Bill Richardson. It starts at 7 p.m. EDT. Before the Democrats take the stage in Manchester, N.H., Republicans Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul will hold their own forum. ABC anchor Charles Gibson will moderate both debates.
The network set up benchmarks to narrow the field. Candidates had to meet at least one of three criteria: place first through fourth in Iowa, poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major New Hampshire surveys, or poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major national surveys.
ABC said the rules were quite inclusive, and that none of the candidates objected ahead of time. Its decision was made easier by Democrats Joe Biden and Chris Dodd dropping out of the race Thursday night.
It’s hard to argue with any of these cuts; none of the cutees are factors. The inclusion of Ron Paul, who got a respectable 10 percent in Iowa, was also the right move.
There’s an argument to be made, of course, that the television networks shouldn’t be the ones making these choices. Poll-driven benchmarks are problematic, especially when 49 states have yet to allocate any delegates. Still, culling needs to happen in order to allow the voters to focus on the legitimate candidates and it’s not quite clear how else we would achieve this. The political parties have an obvious disinclination to telling their senators and representatives and governors that they’re not ready for prime time and they also want to avoid the appearance of hand-selecting the candidates.