(Bloomberg) — Lower-polling Republican presidential candidates who didn’t make the cut for the first debate face a decision: stay in the race, with their prospects dwindling, or drop out months before voting even starts.
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Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Michigan businessman Perry Johnson, Texas pastor and business executive Ryan Binkley and California talk show host Larry Elder didn’t meet the Republican National Committee’s criteria to appear on stage Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
To qualify, candidates had to raise money from at least 40,000 donors and get 1% support in at least three polls. Those numbers will increase for the second debate next month in California, as the party seeks to avoid a repeat of the unwieldy debates in the 2016 race that were conducted over two separate nights because there were so many candidates.
Suarez claimed last week that he had met the polling criteria, but the surveys he submitted didn’t meet the party’s eligibility standards, according to the RNC. Johnson and Elder had also claimed to have qualified.
The Miami mayor previously said any candidate who didn’t qualify for the debate should drop out. Suarez will have an announcement about the future of his campaign Tuesday, spokeswoman Soledad Cedro said.
Also missing from the stage will be Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. Candidates had to sign a pledge that they would support the party’s eventual nominee, which the former president has refused to do.
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Trump has said he didn’t wish to elevate his rivals and instead plans to do an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson on X, the social media network formerly known as Twitter.
Former Representative Will Hurd of Texas, a fierce Trump critic, also won’t be debating in Milwaukee. Even if he had met the polling and donor requirements, he said he couldn’t support Trump if he became the nominee.
Trump’s absence places Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — who has consistently polled a distant second to Trump — at center stage, flanked by seven other candidates: Ohio businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.
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Fox News, which is hosting the Wednesday night forum, said Monday it would restrict access to the debate venue for representatives of non-participating candidates — meaning that Trump supporters won’t get to make the case for the former president in “spin rooms” after the debate. But Fox spokeswoman Jessica Jensen Ketner said other news organizations covering the debate could bring in Trump supporters as guests.
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