Rand Paul Makes The Main Stage In Next GOP Debate Even Though He Probably Shouldn’t Have

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul got a break today when CNN included him in the prime time debate on Tuesday even though he fell short of meeting the criteria.


Rand Paul

CNN announced the participants in Tuesday’s Republican Presidential Debate, and it appears to have included a last minute change that got Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in under the wire notwithstanding doubts about whether he would make it:

Nine candidates will appear in prime-time Tuesday night for the final Republican presidential primary debate of 2015, a critical event that will help shape the contest heading into the Iowa caucuses.

Businessman Donald Trump, the front-runner for the nomination, will again be center stage flanked by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson on his right and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on his left, CNN announced Sunday. The six remaining participants in the prime-time contest will be Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

Four candidate — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki — will appear in the first debate on Tuesday evening.

It will be a return for Christie to the prime-time stage after failing to qualify for the Fox Business prime-time debate last month. Christie has seen a resurgence in recent weeks, particularly in New Hampshire, a key state for his campaign.

Paul, who was in danger of being removed from the main stage, was saved at the 11th hour by showing viability in Iowa in a Fox News poll released Sunday morning.

“In the light of new polling released this morning and in the spirit of being as inclusive as possible, CNN has decided to include Sen. Rand Paul in the prime-time debate,” a CNN spokeswoman said.

Podium order was determined by the average of the national polls from November and December.

CNN’s debate, which will be held in Las Vegas and is the fifth of the primary season, is the first to use early-state polls as a way to make the main event in prime-time. Candidates must meet one of three criteria in polls conducted between October 29 and December 13 and recognized by CNN: an average of at least 3.5% nationally; at least 4% in Iowa; or at least 4% in New Hampshire.

Along with Christie, Fiorina and Kasich qualified for the primetime debate because of their New Hampshire average.

The announcement of who was supposed to be in the debate was initially supposed to be made this morning during the 9am Eastern broadcast of CNN’s State Of The Union  with Jake Tapper, but that show ended without Tapper making any announcement at all, and many observers were left wondering what had happened. As noted in the excerpted article, the motivation for including Paul in the debate appears to have come from the release of a Fox News Channel poll out of Iowa that was released at nearly the same time that Tapper was going on the air live this morning, and it showed Paul coming in at five percent in the Hawkeye State, which is better than Paul has done in most recent Iowa polling, including the Des Moines Register poll released last night in which in came in at three percent. Based on that poll, Paul’s average in Iowa, which had been below 3.5% after the release of the DMR poll, increased to 3.7%. Paul’s campaign spokesman argued on Twitter that the new Fox poll actually put his average at precisely four percent, this meeting the criteria that CNN had set. As Philip Bump notes this afternoon, though, that calculation only works if you leave out another poll that was among those CNN said it would consider and released within the relevant time from. With that poll included, Paul’s average does indeed drop to 3.7% and, since CNN’s initial criteria said that it would not round averages up or down Paul should not have been included.

Given the fact that Paul’s campaign had already started complaining about the possibility that he might be excluded from the main debate stage, it’s probable that the powers that be at CNN decided to use the Fox News Channel Poll to justify putting Paul in the debate. As it was, it seemed apparent that Paul’s campaign would have made a significant about his being relegated to the undercard debate had that occurred, while at the same time the media was writing stories about Paul’s campaign allegedly coming to an end if that happened. As Bump’s colleague David Weigel notes, that speculation hit a fever pitch last night after Boston Globe story insinuated that Paul would be dropping out if he didn’t make the main stage debate, a report that was later edited after the Paul campaign objected. In any case, CNN likely concluded that rounding Paul’s numbers up and including him was easier than the headache it would have to endure over the next 48 hours if Paul had been denied a place on the main stage. As it stands, of course, Paul’s campaign is just as troubled as it was before this afternoon’s announcement, He’s largely a non-factor in the polls nationally and in New Hampshire, and his five percent performance in the Fox News Iowa poll actually seems as though it’s an outlier given where he’s ranked in recent polling in the state. Additionally, over the course of the previous four Republican debates Paul has failed to make much of an impression, and while he’ll have a nother chance on Tuesday, followed by two more in January, it’s not looking very good for the Senator from Kentucky. CNN cut you a very big break, Senator, what you do with it is up to you.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. ernieyeball says:

    Now we know where Dandy Randy the Dreamer Dodger was going when he choked on his burger in Iowa.
    He had to get to the debate on time!


  2. grumpy realist says:

    Oh, let him join. Paul’ll just add to the hilarity, which is going to be watching Trump go medieval on Cruz’s ass, and Cruz trying to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of defending himself too forcibly (ticking off Trump’s supporters) and looking like an ineffectual weenie. Then there will be the barking chorus of the rest, who will be trying to say something that gets the Twitter-feed in action and gets them talked about at all.

    (Forget it, guys. You are yapping Pomeranians in comparison to the Alien vs. Predator match on the front stage.)

    Hillary must be looking at all of this and thinking “wow, what did I ever do to deserve this? Praise Zeus.”

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Rand is a spoiled and entitled politics brat.

    Perhaps if he polled above 5% people might actually be interested in his campaign? His problem is that in the context of today’s Republican Party he’s almost a RINO. I suspect that he realizes that, and so he’s had a hard time gaining any kind of solid footing, and clearly Iowa (evangelical ridden) is not a place where he’s going to gain any traction whatsoever.

  4. Gustopher says:


    Perhaps if he polled above 5% people might actually be interested in his campaign?

    I think you have that backwards.

  5. Gustopher says:

    Given that so many of the ostensibly-plausible candidates are within the margin of error of zero, give-or-take, I think the debate organizers should be including as many candidates as possible, and changing the format as needed to accommodate all the candidates.

    The alternative is that CNN is picking the serious candidates for the Republican nomination, which is a terrible idea.

    (The format I would prefer is two debates, taking candidates in order of polling, even numbers one night, odd the other, so neither debate is the kiddie table debate. The two leaders woudnt share the stage, but that is less important at this point than all the candidates getting a chance to make their case)

  6. PJ says:

    And here I thought Rand Paul opposed affirmative action, but I guess he approves when the minority in question is a “Libertarian” trying to get a place at the big boys Republican debate which he, according to the rules, clearly failed to meet the criteria for…

  7. Tillman says:

    So CNN included him because otherwise they’d suffer more “liberal media” bashing? I’m failing to see their rationale. Does he bring an audience big enough to make it worth watering the rest of the debate down?

  8. Davebo says:


    Well Rand threatened to take his ball and go home if they didn’t let him in.

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    The reality is that Rand Paul has no niche to fill in today’s Republican Party’ . He is not evangelical enough and he is not hawkish enough. He also doesn’t come across as someone who is xenophobic enough.

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @Ron Beasley: He’s also as much of a flip-flopper as Romney in some respects.

    Rand Paul has made it just a little too obvious that The Rules For Thee Are Not The Rules For Me, and that he’ll talk whichever way he needs out of his mouth to get elected. If he had STUCK with his no-war stance he’d be in much better position.

  11. Mr. Prosser says:

    @grumpy realist: “The Rules For Thee Are Not The Rules For Me” True, it started when he bought off the Kentucky Republicans to run for prez and senate.

  12. James Pearce says:

    One reason why Rand wants to be on the CNN stage as a presidential candidate: It helps his Senate campaign.

    (Which helps his future presidential campaign, of which there will be many, I’m sure.)

  13. Tillman says:

    @Davebo: Why does CNN want his ball in the first place?

  14. Bill Lefrak says:

    Having Paul there serves CNN’s agenda, is all. Divide and conquer.

    Incidentally, it’s no surprise that Paul’s not even on the map. It’s been eight full years since the Paulbots first found each other on the Internet, with the senior Paul’s national run. Those kids believe it or not now are pushing 30. Most of them if not an overwhelming majority still are living at home, owe colossal sums of student loan debt, and have no realistic prospects. In short it was cool for them being a Paulbot back in 2008, at age 22, and it still largely was cool in 2012, at age 26, but now that ship has sailed away and sank. Not cool anymore.

  15. ernieyeball says:

    @Bill Lefrak:..Those kids believe it or not now are pushing 30. Most of them if not an overwhelming majority still are living at home, owe colossal sums of student loan debt, and have no realistic prospects.

    These are interesting demographics.
    Please share any evidence you might have to support them.