On Tuesday, December 15, Las Vegas will play host to the 4,752nd 5th Republican presidential debate. Wolf Blitzer will moderate, joined by Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt.

Once again, we’re looking at two sessions—a kids’ table discussion, and a prime time debate featuring those candidates who meet one of three criteria in a set series of polls. If a candidate wants to grab a podium on the main stage, he or she will have to poll at an average of 3.5% nationally, or hit at least 4% in either Iowa or New Hampshire. To sit at the kiddie table, a candidate must scratch together at least 1% in four separate national, Iowa or New Hampshire polls.

As usual, we have safe candidates, bubble candidates, and candidates who should probably just go home:

Right now, nine candidates would make cut for the Republican National Committee sanctioned debate at The Venetian in Las Vegas: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Paul is on the bubble for the debate. He clears the national hurdle of 3.5%, but doesn’t average 4% in either of the first two states to vote in the 2016 nominating process.

Christie would make the main debate stage as of Friday — but he did not qualify in the last GOP debate, hosted by Fox Business Network.

CNN is including a long (long) list of polling sources in its criteria. It will consider data collected between October 29 and December 13 from:

  • ABC News
  • Bloomberg News
  • CBS News
  • CNN
  • Fox News
  • Gallup
  • Marist University
  • McClatchy News Service
  • Monmouth News Service
  • NBC News
  • The New York Times
  • Pew Research Center
  • Quinnipiac University
  • Time
  • USA Today
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • The Washington Post
  • The Des Moines Register
  • The University of New Hampshire
  • WBUR
  • WMUR

Note that we’re not just working with national polls; CNN is slipping in more localized surveys in key primary states. Will this narrow the field? (Will anything narrow the field ever?) If I were to hazard a guess, I would say if it does, it will only relegate one, maybe two candidates to the ever-shrinking early debate.

The top candidates here are no shock—but the dynamic will change with Christie back on the stage. I see this going down one of two ways: the other candidates will either ignore him completely, or welcome him back to the adult discussion by pointing out how the voters didn’t have enough faith in him to include him in the last adult discussion.

Either way, it should be interesting to see how candidates like Christie, and Paul—who is also losing steam—distinguish themselves in terms of policy. This debate will also be important for Jeb Bush, who did better by a factor of 1000 in the last debate but still isn’t resonating with voters not already committed to supporting another Bush.

As for Trump, Carson, Rubio, and Cruz—I expect fireworks. At this point, the race needs them.

Follow Amy on Twitter @ThatAmyMiller


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