Asa Hutchinson misses out as seven candidates qualify for second GOP debate

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson fell short of qualifying for the second GOP presidential primary debate this week, but the seven other candidates who were there for the first debate in August will be back onstage Wednesday in California.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., have all qualified for the second debate Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, the Republican National Committee said in a statement.

That means they met all three of the party’s qualifying criteria — a unique donor threshold, a minimum polling requirement and signed pledges that include supporting the party’s eventual nominee. Former President Donald Trump, who also skipped the first GOP debate, easily surpassed the first two requirements, according to NBC News’ analysis. But he has refused to sign the party pledges, without which he can’t qualify.

Most of the candidates set to meet Wednesday passed each threshold easily, but Burgum didn’t notch all of his qualifying polls until the weekend before the debate.

That made him the only candidate who participated in the first debate last month to fall short of qualifying this time. A number of other GOP candidates — including former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, conservative commentator Larry Elder, Michigan businessman Perry Johnson and Ryan Binkley, a pastor and entrepreneur — didn’t qualify for either contest.

The main issue for Hutchinson — and the issue that almost blocked Burgum — was the polling threshold, which required candidates to hit a higher mark, in fewer polls, than the first debate’s criteria. Neither candidate could consistently hit 3% in national- or state-level polling.

Missing out on the debate stage and the free publicity that comes with it has proved costly before. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez dropped out of the presidential race days after he failed to qualify for the first debate.

Hutchinson, one of the weaker fundraisers in the field, recently told reporters in South Carolina he didn’t have a specific off-ramp in mind for his presidential race. In New Hampshire, he said missing the debate would mean he would need to reflect on his campaign.

But shortly after the news broke that he would miss the debate, Hutchinson said in a statement that he would continue his campaign.

“I understand that the RNC and the media are trying to reduce the number of candidates, but I measure success based on the response I receive in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire,” he said. “My goal is to increase my polling numbers to 4% in an early state before Thanksgiving. If that goal is met, then I remain competitive and in contention for either Caucus Day or Primary Day.”

He continued: “I entered this race because it is critically important for a leader within the Republican Party to stand up to Donald Trump and call him out on misleading his supporters and the American people. I intend to continue doing that.”

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