More drama is brewing in the lead-up to Thursday's Republican debate as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is insisting he get a spot on the main stage even if he doesn’t qualify because of his poll numbers.
POLITICO reported that Paul’s chief adviser Doug Stafford emailed reporters on Monday to argue Paul is a “serious” contender for the nomination “because he has qualified to do so and because he has a top tier campaign.”
Paul reiterated, telling reporters, “I don't think there’s any way anybody in any clear conscience can exclude us from the main stage.”
The first-term senator is in a precarious position to secure a place on the North Charleston debate stage, as organizers have said the debate could shrink to just six candidates. To qualify for the main stage, candidates need to be polling in the top six nationally or be in the top five in either New Hampshire or Iowa. Rand Paul ranks seventh according to RealClearPolitics, averaging at just 2.8 percent in polls of Republican voters.
Paul said in a statement on Monday that it would be “difficult” for the debate’s sponsor, Fox Business Channel, to exclude him from the South Carolina debate, as he placed fifth in a recent Iowa poll, and has finished ahead of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Carly Fiorina in other surveys.
In December, Paul said that he would not participate in any “undercard” GOP debate, but would not say on Monday whether he has reconsidered.
“I’ve got 800 precinct chairmen in Iowa. I’ve got 100 people on the ground working for me. I’ve raised $25 million. I’m not gonna let any network or anybody tell me we’re not a first-tier campaign,” said Paul on Fox News Radio's “Kilmeade & Friends” as first reported by BuzzFeed News. “I frankly just won’t be told by the media which tier I’m in, and we’re not willing to accept that, because we’re a first-tier campaign, and we’re in it to win it, and we won’t be told that we’re in a tier that can’t win,” he added.
The networks are still struggling to accommodate the cumbersome GOP field, which has been filed down to 13 candidates but still presents an over bloated beast. Critics have pointed to controversies surrounding the lineup for multiple debates, as rules have been stretched to get Carly Fiorina into the main event, and Paul just making CNN’s December debate, despite not meeting the required poll numbers.
The current line-up stands, according to RealClearPolitics averages, to include the top six Republican candidates nationally — Donald Trump, Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.