Why Carly Fiorina Being Bumped To The Undercard GOP Debate Might Actually Be A Good Thing

Only seven of the Republican presidential candidates qualified as main stage participants for Thursday's Republican presidential primary debate, host network Fox Business News announced Monday. And while Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has decided to snub the debate entirely rather than be second-tier, getting moved to the undercard debate might be good for Carly Fiorina.

Although the former Hewlett-Packard CEO has not yet publicly responded to FBN cutting her from its primetime debate, it's not likely she'll follow Paul's lead and opt out. In an interview last week on FBN, Fiorina showed an aggressive eagerness to go head-to-head with her rivals. "I'll be in South Carolina, and I'll debate anyone, anytime, anywhere," she said.

FBN introduced qualification criteria that sought to pare down the list of Republican candidates jockeying for talk time during the primetime debate. Only the top six candidates in the five most recent national polls and the top five candidates in recent Iowa or New Hampshire polls were invited to participate in Thursday's main stage, or top-tier, debate. According to The Wall Street Journal, Fiorina failed to poll high enough in either national polls or those coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire. The businesswoman reportedly lagged 3 points behind Jeb Bush, who ranked fifth in an average of Iowa's most recent polls.


At the beginning of the 2016 debate cycle, Fiorina was touted as the clear winner of the Aug. 6 undercard debate and applauded for being well-spoken and in command of the issues. She laid out sharp criticisms of both her Republican and Democratic rivals. As a result her polling numbers increased, and she graduated from the second-tier in time for CNN's September debate. Monday's bump will bring Fiorina back to the undercard debate after four rounds on the main stage, but that might not prove to be the end of her campaign.

In any election cycle, the presidential primary debates serve largely as an opportunity for candidates to gain more exposure with voters through both the actual debate and any media coverage that follows it. For low-polling candidates like Fiorina, this opportunity for exposure is even more crucial. A strong victory in an undercard debate could benefit Fiorina in media coverage and name recognition more right now than getting lost amongst the high-profile candidates like Donald Trump who will be battling for attention on the main stage.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Gallup Poll editor Frank Newport argued last fall that Fiorina's undercard debate placement "obviously didn't hurt her. One might argue that it may have helped her if the smaller, less imposing group on stage with her made it easier for her to stand out," he said.

What held true in August could potentially still hold true for Fiorina at Thursday's debate.