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Jun 10, 2015 11:09 AM

Steinhauser: Top NH Republicans blast criteria for first GOP presidential debate; Fox News relents a bit

NH1 Political Director - NH1.com

CONCORD – Some of the top Republicans in New Hampshire signed on to an open letter to Fox News and the Republican National Committee that strongly criticizes the move to limit the first GOP presidential debate to ten candidates.

And hours later, Fox News made a few changes.

“We urge you to reconsider the criteria and to design a debate that will allow voters to hear from a more diverse and inclusive group of candidates who have filed to run for president,” reads the letter, which was signed by 56 prominent Republican lawmakers, former lawmakers, activists and officials. Among those putting their name on the letter are former governors Steve Merrill and Craig Benson, Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, state Senate President Chuck Morse, state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, and eight other Republican state senators.

Only 10 candidates will make the stage at the August 6 showdown in Cleveland (host city for next year’s Republican convention). With 10 candidates already declared and at least five more GOP White House hopefuls all but certain to announce, a bunch of contenders won’t make the cut. Fox News, which is hosting the debate, is using national polling to determine who makes the stage.

“As you know the first in the Nation New Hampshire Primary plays a pivotal role in selecting our nominees for president. Historically it has been the responsibility of early primary and caucus states to closely examine the field of candidates, and it is not in the electorate’s interest to have TV debate criteria supplant this solemn duty. To do so would undermine the very nature of our process and the valuable service that states like New Hampshire provide to voters across the country,” states the letter.

While the letter acknowledges that a debate with 15 to 20 candidates on the stage would be unwieldy, the signers suggest that Fox News “divide the debate into two panels to appear back to back, either on the same night or consecutive nights.”

Chris Sununu told NH1 News "I just think it’s a bad move. In some ways it sets a ten week mini-primary, for folks trying to get enough polling to get on that stage.”

"To arbitrarily cut that down to a field of ten as opposed to finding some other means to making sure that all the viable candidates have a chance to get out there on the national scene, it just doesn’t seem like it’s the right time for that in August of 2015," Sununu added.

The letter was spearheaded by veteran NH based GOP consultant Jamie Burnett and Republican activist James Sununu. The letter was sent to Fox News and to the RNC on Wednesday morning.

Some of the Republican presidential candidates who may not make the cut for the first debate have been critical of the criteria, including former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who was runner up to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who’s polling very low in national surveys, told NH1 News last week “here’s what I would say about national polling: Brad Pitt would probably be in the debate. I’m sure he’s a fine fellow. But at the end of the day what your testing is people who’ve run before or people who have certain celebrity status. For a candidate like me, I wouldn’t have a chance if it were Florida, New York or California.”

The networks hosting the debates are setting the criteria for which candidates make the cut.

"Among the suggestions we offered were that media partners should consider early state polling results. The first two debates, on FOX and CNN, do not use early state polling criteria. However, other media partners may well do so," RNC committeeman from New Hampshire Steve Duprey told NH1 News.

"We continue to have ongoing discussions with all of our media partners in an effort to make these as inclusive as possible and we can expect to see adjustments in formulas and formats going forward," added Duprey, chairman of the RNC's debates committee.

Wednesday evening Fox news announced it would give airtime to candidates who didn't make the cut, saying they will be invited to take part in a 90-minute forum to be aired hours before the primetime debate.

"Our intention has always been to provide coverage to the wide field of Republican candidates," said Fox News' Executive Vice President of News Editorial Michael Clemente.


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