CNN Changes Debate Rules After Fiorina Outcry

Carrie Dann

CNN is amending the rules for its September 16 Republican debate amid outcry that its criteria for participation would unfairly exclude Carly Fiorina despite her recent boost in national polls.

Previously, CNN planned to average national polls dating from mid-July all the way until a cutoff date on September 10. The top 10 candidates, according to that average, would participate in the network's primetime debate, while the remainder of the GOP field would be relegated to a secondary forum earlier the same day.

But that criteria looked likely to exclude Fiorina, who registered very low numbers in the nine national polls taken before the August 6 FOX debate, where her performance earned her a polling bump.

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Fiorina had complained for weeks that CNN's rules were unfair.

Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina responds to a question at a Fox-sponsored forum for lower polling candidates held before the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015.
Brian Snyder | Reuters

According to the new rules, "any candidate who ranks in the top 10 in polling between August 6 and September 10 will be included," CNN said in a statement.

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"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," the network said. "We have discussed these changes with the Republican National Committee and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and they are fully supportive."

Fiorina's deputy campaign manager, Sarah Isgur Flores, tweeted thanks to the candidate's supporters.

Sarah Isgur Flores tweet 1

Sarah Isgur Flores tweet 2

Sarah Isgur Flores tweet 3

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement that he supports the changes.

"I applaud CNN for recognizing the historic nature of this debate and fully support the network's decision to amend their criteria," he said.

Previously, a spokeswoman for CNN indicated that changing the rules — originally published on May 20 — would violate FEC guidelines.

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"CNN published the criteria for the CNN-Reagan Library debate on May 20th. It will encompass polling data from three weeks prior to the first debate and five weeks following," CNN spokeswoman Barbara Levin told POLITICO. "Federal Election Commission guidelines make it clear that these criteria cannot be changed after they have been published. We believe that our approach is a fair and effective way to deal with the highest number of candidates we have ever encountered."