Pete Seat: Can Fiorina capitalize on her first debate?
Wednesday, August 26, 2015 3:04 PM
INDIANAPOLIS – Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and one-time U.S. Senate candidate, found herself the talk of the town following an impressive performance in the first presidential debate of the 2016 cycle. Her crisp responses and sharp critiques of Hillary Clinton, Fiorina's go-to punching bag, earned her major plaudits from every corner of the media and political worlds. And rightfully so.
But can she capitalize on this?
There is undoubtedly a growing sense within the Republican primary electorate that Fiorina should be included on the main stage when the candidates next gather for two more rounds of debate at the Ronald Reagan Library on Sept. 16. But to get there she must overcome two big hurdles, turning fans into voters and CNN's debate requirements.
Fans equal votes
There’s a distinct difference between people who support Fiorina’s inclusion in the debate and those who would cast a vote for her to be the nominee. For instance, I would venture to guess that if you assembled 10 Republicans in a room and asked them if Fiorina should be on the main stage of the next debate the enthusiastic answer would be, “Yes!”
In fact, that was one of the questions posed by Suffolk University in a recent poll of Iowa Republicans. When asked, “Should Carly Fiorina be invited to future televised debates against the top-tier Republican candidates?” the affirmative response was a resounding 92.84 percent.
But that’s not the question that gets one onto the debate stage. The money question, so to speak, is some variation of “Who would you vote for to be the Republican nominee?”
If the former question was employed, I have no doubt Fiorina would be on the stage. It’s the latter question that might prevent her from getting there, however. She needs to move more Republicans from merely fans to full-fledged voters.
CNN’s debate requirements
The host of the next two debates, CNN, released criteria that vary from the requirements used by Fox News for their two debates last week. Whereas Fox used an average of five national polls taken in the days leading up to the debate to determine eligibility, CNN’s rules state the network will use “an average of all qualifying polls released between July 16 and Sept. 10.” By broadening the base of polls used, there will be multiple polls in which Fiorina received zero percent of the vote, results that could diminish the impact of her current post-debate bump in support.
On this front, the good news is that the current RealClearPolitics polling average puts Fiorina in 11th place with 2.8 percent of the national primary vote (two days ago she was in 13th place with 1.3 percent). The bad news is when using the nine polls that CNN would count (they exclude outfits such as Public Policy Polling and Rasmussen), her average dips below 1 percent.
Nevertheless, Fiorina has time. If anyone is poised to clear these hurdles right now, it’s she. Despite the rush of stories about Donald Trump and the near constant swirl of controversy around his candidacy, Fiorina remains in a position to earn the support necessary to crack the top 10 and shine in primetime.
Pete Seat is senior project manager at the Indianapolis-based Hathaway Strategies and author of the book, “The War on Millennials.” He was previously a spokesman for President George W. Bush, U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and the Indiana Republican Party.