Washington — Despite his misgivings, and despite losing his case for prime-time billing, Gov. Bobby Jindal will participate at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the third nationally televised debate among Republican candidates for president, his campaign confirmed this week.
Relegated for the third time to the so-called undercard — the “happy hour” debate among also-rans that precedes the main event among better-polling candidates — Jindal has argued that the criteria used to sort the field are misguided. Instead of using national poll results, the cable networks televising the event should look instead to the candidates’ standing in the states that decide early in the nomination process, he has said.
And he had hinted he might skip the upcoming debate altogether if he didn’t get his way.
But CNBC, which is televising the debate from Boulder, Colorado, stuck to its plan, which reserves the main, two-hour debate at 7 p.m. for candidates who averaged 2.5 percent or better in polls by the major broadcast networks and Bloomberg from Sept. 17 through Oct. 21.
Jindal didn’t come close, averaging 0.33 percent in the specified polls. But he did qualify for the undercard by registering at least 1 percent in at least one of those polls (he actually scored 1 percent in two of them).
The upshot is that Jindal will sit at the “kids’ table” with the same undercarders from CNN’s Sept. 16 debate: former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, who was rated by CNBC’s system at 0.67 percent; former New York Gov. George Pataki (0.33 percent); and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina (0.22 percent).
Unlike the previous debates, the event Wednesday will focus on a theme: the economy. The 10 candidates making the prime-time cut also made it Sept. 16, although their order in the polls has shifted some since then.
Real estate developer and reality TV celebrity Donald Trump, of New York, remains No. 1, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, of Maryland; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, of California; U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky; Ohio Gov. John Kasich; and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who appeared in prime time Sept. 16, withdrew from the race a few days later.
All three networks televising the debates have split the field based on national poll results to manage the unwieldy number of candidates, although each network has used somewhat different calculations. The first debate, on Fox News Aug. 6, included 10 headliners and seven in the second tier. Among those seven were former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who has failed to qualify for either the CNN or CNBC debates; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out in early September; and Fiorina.
Fiorina is the slumdog millionaire for the also-rans. She turned in a confident and forceful performance in the first undercard debate, and her subsequent rise in the polls vaulted her to the main stage for the next debate, after CNN changed its ranking methodology to account for her surge.
But no such updraft lifted anyone on the JV squad after the second debates, in which Graham was the consensus winner among the relegated candidates, with Jindal earning a gold star from some prominent commentators on the far right.
A boost for anyone at the kids’ table after the third debates is “unlikely,” said Charlie Cook, who writes the Cook Political Report.
“We’ve seen these guys before,” Cook said. “Anybody with the talent to break out already did.”
Anything is possible, said Larry Sabato, of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, but he, too, said a Fiorina-like promotion is a long shot.
“At this point,” he said, “most Republicans want this field winnowed.”
It won’t help Jindal and his fellow second-fiddlers that the debates Wednesday are on CNBC, a network less familiar to the TV audience than Fox or CNN, Sabato said. The first two telecasts smashed ratings records for nomination debates, with the prime-time events each drawing around 24 million viewers and the undercards more than 6 million.
Jindal, who is barred by state law from a third term for governor starting in January, has concentrated his campaign on Iowa, site of the Feb. 1 caucuses that start the Republican nomination process. He has emphasized his evangelical Christianity and sharply criticized both Trump and the Washington establishment, particularly the “surrender caucus” of Republicans in Congress.
His supporters were cheered by a mid-September poll that put him in a three-way tie for fifth in Iowa at 6 percent. But in five subsequent polls there, he has averaged 2.8 percent.
He barely registers in polls in New Hampshire, which holds its primary Feb. 9, or later-deciding states.
The Jindal campaign also has been troubled by lackluster fundraising. His official campaign committee raised less than 11 other candidates in the most recent, July-September reporting period, and spent more than it took in over those three months.
In Iowa, Jindal has leaned heavily on Believe Again, an independent political action committee dedicated to his campaign. Believe Again has sponsored dozens of town-hall meetings with voters and Jindal across the state and has spent millions on television ads for him.
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