Republicans stiffen qualifying requirements for fourth debate in December

By Gram Slattery

(Reuters) – Republican presidential primary candidates will need to meet relatively stringent polling requirements to participate in the fourth debate in December, the Republican National Committee said on Friday, which could result in a winnowing of the field.

The debate is set to take place in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Dec. 6, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

To qualify, candidates will need to receive 6% support in at least two national polls, or both 6% in one national poll and 6% in one statewide poll in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada. Those are crucial states in the nominating process, as they are the first four to select their preferred nominee.

Candidates will also need 80,000 unique donors, and at least 200 donors from each of 20 or more states and territories, the RNC said in a statement.

Traditionally, candidates that fail to make a debate stage lose the attention of the media, voters and donors. For the candidates that make it, a smaller stage will mean more speaking time, giving them valuable exposure in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses, set for Jan. 15.

As of now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley appear to be easily meeting the polling threshold. Former tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy also would make the stage, considering current surveys, albeit by a narrower margin.

Unless their fortunes improve, U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum would not make the stage in Alabama.

Former President Donald Trump, who is by far the frontrunner, meets the polling thresholds, but has declined to participate in the debates so far, saying it would be a waste of time given his significant lead.

The third Republican debate, which has a similarly structured polling threshold of 4%, will take place on Wednesday in Miami. Haley, DeSantis, Christie and Ramaswamy will be in attendance. Scott is on the cusp, but has said he has qualified. Burgum appears so far to be short of the threshold.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery; editing by Jonathan Oatis)