Will Rand Paul Be In The Primetime Debate? The GOP Candidate's Shaky Numbers Are Still Wavering

The next Republican debate might finally succeed in narrowing down the gargantuan field of GOP presidential contenders. As with the last few debates, the event will be divided into two segments — an undercard debate featuring low-polling candidates, followed by a primetime forum with the real contenders. Candidates need an average of 2.5 percent polling support in order to be invited to the main debate stage, and this requirement will demote Chris Christie to the kid’s table debate. Is he the only one, or are others getting the boot as well? For example, will Rand Paul be in the next GOP debate?

The host of the debate, Fox Business Network, has announced the final lineup, and Paul indeed will squeak onto the main stage — but only by the skin of his teeth. In the latest polling average at RealClearPolitics, Paul stands at 2.8 percent — just a hair above the threshold for the primetime debate. He’ll be much closer to the edge of the stage than the middle, but he’ll be there nonetheless, along with Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and the rest of the top-tier Republican field. But Christie, who has long been one of Paul’s fiercest critics, has fallen just short of that threshold, averaging only 2 percent support.

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Christie and Paul have been political rivals for quite some time now. They came to national prominence around the same time (2009 for Christie, Paul a year later), yet their ideologies are about as different as possible for two members of the Republican Party. Paul’s libertarian-ish views on foreign intervention, drug legalization, and domestic surveillance and crime are a stark contrast to Christie, who adheres to traditional Republican stances on those issues. As such, they’ve often butted heads, most notably in previous Republican debates.

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Christie can take comfort in the fact that he's not the only candidate to be shoved down the totem poll. Mike Huckabee is also getting downgraded to second-tier status and will be at the kid's table debate alongside Christie. Meanwhile, three candidates who'd previously appeared at undercard debates — Lindsey Graham, Jim Gilmore and George Pataki — will be excluded from the forum altogether.

While watching bottom-tier candidates claw at each other for table scraps can be amusing, it’s also striking how dramatically Paul and Christie’s fortunes have fallen over the last year. After President Obama’s reelection, it was all but assumed that both would be frontrunners for the Republican nomination in 2016, which generated a lot of press for both candidates. But a lot can change in two years — and a lot has. When the story of the 2016 campaign is written, Paul and Christie will most likely be relegated to footnotes.