Fiorina participates in a presidential pre-debate forum hosted by Fox News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena on Aug. 6 in Cleveland.

Fiorina participates in a presidential pre-debate forum hosted by Fox News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena on Aug. 6 in Cleveland. Andrew Harnik/AP

Helping Carly Fiorina, CNN Changed its Debate Rules

Following a strong showing in the first round of debates, Fiorina appears likely to take the main stage in the second one.

After weeks of spar­ring, the great war between Carly Fior­ina and CNN has been de­cided. And Fior­ina has emerged the vic­tor.

Late Tues­day, CNN an­nounced it would change its cri­ter­ia for GOP can­did­ates to qual­i­fy for the main stage of its pres­id­en­tial de­bate in Den­ver on Sept. 16. The old rules, Fior­ina’s sup­port­ers said, un­fairly weighted polls taken be­fore the first GOP de­bate on Aug. 6, and there­fore be­fore many Re­pub­lic­an voters knew who Fior­ina was. As she’s climbed in the polls fol­low­ing a strong per­form­ance in the first de­bate, her camp has ar­gued that CNN’s meth­od­o­logy is un­fairly hold­ing her back.

Up un­til Tues­day, CNN had said Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion law pre­vents the net­work from chan­ging its de­bate cri­ter­ia. Un­der the new rules, more weight will be giv­en to polls taken after the first GOP de­bate, and to polls in early primary states.

Here are the full new rules for qual­i­fy­ing for the main de­bate stage, re­ferred to here as “Seg­ment B” of the de­bate:

7. The first 10 can­did­ates—ranked from highest to low­est in polling or­der from an av­er­age of all qual­i­fy­ing polls re­leased between Ju­ly 16 and Septem­ber 10 who sat­is­fy the cri­ter­ia re­quire­ments out­lined in this doc­u­ment—will be in­vited to par­ti­cip­ate in “Seg­ment B” of the Septem­ber 16, 2015 Re­pub­lic­an Pres­id­en­tial Primary De­bate. In the event of a tie for 10th place, the tie-break­er will be an av­er­age of all qual­i­fy­ing polls re­leased between Au­gust 26 and Septem­ber 10. The second tie-break­er will be an av­er­age of all qual­i­fy­ing polling con­duc­ted in Iowa, New Hamp­shire, South Car­o­lina, and Nevada re­leased between Ju­ly 16 and Sept. 10.

7a. In the event that there is a can­did­ate (or can­did­ates) polling in the top ten in qual­i­fy­ing polls between Au­gust 7 and Septem­ber 10, but not polling in the top 10 in polls between Ju­ly 16 and Septem­ber 10, that can­did­ate (or can­did­ates) will be ad­ded to the de­bate stage and will ap­pear in “Seg­ment B” of the de­bate.

The Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee—which had come un­der fire from Fior­ina’s cam­paign for set­ting the ori­gin­al (and ac­cord­ing to Team Fior­ina, flawed) cri­ter­ia with CNN—ap­plauded the new rules. “I ap­plaud CNN for re­cog­niz­ing the his­tor­ic nature of this de­bate and fully sup­port the net­work’s de­cision to amend their cri­ter­ia,” RNC Chair­man Re­ince Priebus said in a state­ment.

The RNC was surely wary of the op­tics of keep­ing its field’s sole fe­male can­did­ate off the main stage. Cam­paign­ing in Iowa last week, Fior­ina made a point of call­ing out both CNN and the RNC for re­fus­ing to change the de­bate cri­ter­ia, and hin­ted that they were pur­pose­fully try­ing to keep her off the stage. Earli­er on Tues­day af­ter­noon, be­fore CNN an­nounced its new cri­ter­ia, Fior­ina’s cam­paign pub­lished alet­ter on Me­di­um from sup­port­ers ask­ing CNN to in­clude Fior­ina in the de­bate.

It would be an un­der­state­ment to say Fior­ina’s cam­paign is happy with the news. Fior­ina had a break­out per­form­ance in the first de­bate, and has been look­ing to use that per­form­ance as a spring­board onto the main stage of the next de­bate. Judging by her re­cent swing through Iowa, it’s something that Re­pub­lic­ans in the early primary state want too.

Sarah Is­gur Flores, Fior­ina’s cam­paign dir­ect­or, tweeted as if Fior­ina’s place on the main stage is now cer­tain:

However, just be­cause Fior­ina has a chance to make it onto the main stage now does not mean she’ll ne­ces­sar­ily be kick­ing an­oth­er can­did­ate off the is­land. The way the new CNN cri­ter­ia works, if a can­did­ate polls in either the top ten of the earli­er pool (Ju­ly 16-Sept. 10) or the later one (Aug. 7-Sept. 10) they’ll be placed in the top tier at the de­bate.

CNN’s ac­qui­es­cence to the com­plaints from Fior­ina’s sup­port­ers could set a risky pre­ced­ent for fu­ture de­bates. Surely this is not the last time a can­did­ate will feel he or she is be­ing wrongly de­prived of air time. With so many Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates run­ning for pres­id­ent, one of them will train their gaze on the next me­dia out­let host­ing the next de­bate. Wheth­er or not the com­pany caves to the next source of pres­sure will be telling.

Tim Alberta contributed to this article.

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