On Tuesday night, 13 Republican presidential hopefuls will gather in Las Vegas Tuesday night for their final debate of 2015. CNN is hosting the event once again, and the tradition of relegating the lowest-performing candidates to the kids' table will continue. This round, the GOP undercard debate will feature former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former New York Governor George Pataki. The four men will duke it out to stay relevant in the race, hoping to prove they belong with the grown-ups in 2016.
The podium order isn't a major change from the last debate. Huckabee and Santorum are returning for their second and fourth undercard appearance, respectively; Christie has moved back up to the main stage, while Bobby Jindal has dropped out. Replacing Christie and Jindal are Pataki and Graham, who both were excluded from the November debate due to failing to meet the minimum requirement of 1 percent national polling. CNN set a similar minimum standard to Fox Business', meaning Pataki and Graham crept up slightly, maybe by Jindal's freed up votes or Dr. Ben Carson's plummeting poll numbers.
Huckabee is the only participant who has been on the main stage in past debates, but since his performance in the October 28 debate, he has not been able to regain the necessary polling numbers to earn his way back. CNN's criteria for the main stage was 3.5 percent in national polls, 4 percent in Iowa, or 4 percent in New Hampshire, and with only 2 percent nationally, Huckabee was far from viable right now. But he's been on the main stage three times, and as shown by Christie, it's possible for a resurgence in numbers to boost him back up in 2016.
The common denominator in the undercard debate, besides polling averages, is money. Huckabee, Graham, Santorum, and Pataki were all near the bottom of the pack for fundraising when the FEC released the campaign finance data in October, and the lack of funds has clearly affected their campaigns. The stakes are high for this undercard debate — a strong showing and all the free media coverage could give any of these candidates a boost that would shake up the race.
This debate is the last chance to make an impression on voters before a break for the holiday season — the next debate isn't until Jan. 14, and family gatherings and holiday parties are a great time to swing voters. An outstanding performance could make or break campaigns, so this debate is sure to be a fierce one. Tune in Tuesday night on CNN or stream it online for free to catch all the action.