New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will be in the “undercard” group in the next Republican presidential debate on Tuesday.
The decision by the organizers to keep them off the main stage is a big blow to their campaigns and a sign of their failure to gain traction in the polls.
The two candidates will be joined by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in a four-man undercard debate at 7 pm moderated and televised by Fox Business Network. That means South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki are out entirely from the fourth GOP debate.
The main debate at 9 pm has been whittled to eight candidates who have polled 2.5% or higher based on an average of the four most recent national polls. Those making the cut are Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
The Christie relegation was expected for a while now based on his poor poll results. But donors and allies insist this won’t be a death knell for his campaign. “That sucks but… even if he goes to the first debate, he’s going to get a lot more time, which is a lot more time for him to tell his story,” Iowa lobbyist Mikel Derby, who’s backing Christie, told Politico ahead of the announcement.
The fourth debate follows a previous one moderated by CNBC that prompted several candidates to demand that television networks avoid asking “gotcha”-type questions or paint the candidates in a less-than-flattering light. Fox has so far avoided the demands, according to the Washington Post.
Update: Despite the apparent demotion, Christie is still adamant it won’t dent his message: