Qualifying for a presidential primary debate is a collective effort, involving donors and poll respondents. As the primary season progresses, candidates with insufficient financial or popular backing are gradually weeded out. A key aspect of this process in recent years has been meeting the criteria for participating in primary debates. Not making it to the debate stage often signals a campaign’s impending end. For the upcoming GOP debate on Nov. 8 in Miami, the Republican National Committee’s stringent requirements may be a tough obstacle for some candidates.
According to 538’s data, four Republicans have made the cut for the next debate. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s participation, however, is uncertain. Although last-minute polling surprises are possible, the third debate is expected to feature a maximum of five candidates, down from seven in the previous one. This count doesn’t include former President Donald Trump, who, despite qualifying, has chosen to skip the debate.
The RNC has raised the bar for the upcoming debate. To qualify, a candidate must garner at least 4 percent in two national polls, or 4 percent in one national and two early-state polls, based on surveys conducted since Sept. 1. The donor threshold is also higher, requiring 70,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 200 from 20 different states or territories. Additionally, candidates must pledge to support the eventual party nominee. All major contenders, except for Trump, have complied with this requirement.
The main uncertainty for the third debate is Senator Scott’s eligibility. His campaign asserts that he has met the criteria, but his national polling status is unclear. 538’s analysis suggests he hasn’t achieved 4 percent in any national polls that align with the RNC’s standards. Scott’s campaign cites a YouGov Blue/The Liberal Patriot poll placing him at 4 percent nationally, but this survey’s methodology and sample composition raise questions about its acceptability to the RNC.
Other than Scott, three candidates easily met the polling and donor requirements: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, despite some polling challenges, also seems to have qualified, having announced reaching 70,000 donors and narrowly meeting the polling criteria.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum is another potential qualifier, needing more supportive polls. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, however, seems unlikely to qualify due to poor polling and fundraising. Likewise, former Vice President Mike Pence withdrew from the race on Oct. 28, hindered by fundraising issues despite sufficient polling support.
As for Trump, his absence from the debate stage has not impacted his strong position in the GOP nomination race. His opponents have criticized his non-participation, with Christie notably dubbing him “Donald Duck.” The question now is whether any of Trump’s rivals can capitalize on a smaller debate stage to significantly influence the 2024 GOP primary trajectory.